Megaphones on blue background

Let’s make women safe

Shape culture – that’s what WPP, the creative industries and marketing professionals do when they put out marketing messages. ‘Unite for Her’ is a rallying cry to make the world a better, safer space for all women. We speak to Bee Pahnke at WPP’s Grey

“I can choose what to watch on television. I can choose whether I watch a TV show that aligns with my values. I can choose who I follow on social media,” says Pahnke. “What I can't choose is the advertising and sponsored posts I see. When I walk down the street, past a bus with an advert on the side, I can't choose that. When I go to the cinema, I can choose what film I watch but I can't pick the adverts in the pre-roll. In all these ways, advertising messages surround us constantly.”

Those messages naturally influence the way we see and think about the world – whether that is in a way that is good for our communities, or bad. Advertising shapes culture. And the way in which women are represented in advertising has a direct correlation with the way women are treated every day – including whether or not they are safe.

“If we consistently objectify women in the media we create, if we tell society there is one body type and beauty standard that represents the ultimate female form, we create the perfect ecosystem for street harassment and violence against women. This is an ecosystem where women are seen as existing for the enjoyment of others, where catcalling is defended as a compliment, and where women who don’t fit that beauty standard are fair game for abuse. And that’s just one facet of the ways our work influences the rest of the world – we need to take our responsibility seriously. We need to act.”

And Grey has acted. It has created ‘Unite for Her’ – a series of briefs that address the many factors contributing to male violence against women. ‘Unite For Her’ asks the entire industry to commit to taking on the brief their brand or client has the greatest opportunity to tackle. It all boils down to a creative ambition and energy to make women safer. And Grey is ready to support creatives in this mission.

Why is this vital to society?

“All the adverts we make have an impact. Our message to society should never be that women are worth less and men are worth more,” says Pahnke. “Tackling this issue is important, not only as good humans, but also as good businesses, because women are buying our clients’ products too. These messages tell people about the culture we have created as businesses, and business culture is becoming increasingly transparent,” she says.

It does not help that this – the creative industry – is so subjective, and the metrics we work with do not automatically measure these impacts. “We cannot look to the past to find a fairer future because our past isn't necessarily fair,” she says, pointing to gender, skin tone and sexuality.

“So, let's think about the metrics that we have. Let's think about whether or not they're truly serving all of society. Let's think about whether a piece of work will create more equity for people of all genders in the future,” she says. “That might not be something we can measure right now, but we can measure the impact of perception of a demographic. We know that when we challenge perceptions around the status quo, there is real brand loyalty to be gained, and that loyalty translates into a financial reward.”

We are at the start of change

“The technology and algorithms we use today show the impact of historical bias,” says Pahnke. “And it is unconscious bias – I don’t believe anyone is actively trying to disadvantage women financially or put women in danger on purpose – but that bias from those messages we’re surrounded by have an impact. We must stop building that bias into campaigns.”

‘Unite for Her’ is all about proactivity. “We want clients to be sure we are bringing them the best thinking beyond the brief – and others are reaching out to us to explore what they can do too,” she says.

“This societal situation that we found ourselves in did not happen because of one or two campaigns, and it did not happen overnight. And it will take more than one or two brands and more than one night to fix it. ‘Unite for Her’ gives everyone a chance to chip away at the problem of male violence against women and girls. Together, we really can make women safer.”

‘Unite for Her’ declares: "Her fight is your fight. Her fight is our fight. Will you join us?”

Bee Pahnke


published on

28 February 2023



Related Topics

People in all their diversities

More in Communications

Selection of award-winning work from WPP agencies at Cannes Lions 2024

Cannes Lions 2024: what won and why

A glimpse into the creative currents influencing WPP's award-winning work

Photo taken at the WPP Beach in Cannes showing people sitting at tables and standing in groups talking

Cannes Lions 2024: new heights of creativity and courage

In the age of AI, success for the advertising industry requires collaboration, connection, courage – and fun

Headshots of Jane Geraghty and Anna Hickey on a blue and purple split background with the text 'Mechanisms that Matter: Decoding the future of agency models"

Mechanisms that Matter – What it takes to lead an agency team for the world’s biggest brands

Top of the list: A ‘rabid curiosity’ about the new and an understanding of every role in the mix