To kick off 3% Conference, Madonna Badger demands, 'What are you going to do about it?'

Photo Credit: Bronac McNeill
Photo Credit: Bronac McNeill

"As women, we will not be treated as equal until we are portrayed as equal," says the keynote speaker.

Marley Dias, the 11-year-old founder of 1,000 Black Girl Books, once complained to her mother that her school's required reading centered on white male protagonists. Dias's mom asked her, "What are you going to do about it?" and Dias's movement was born.

Today, Kat Gordon's 3% Conference—which turns 5 years old this year—adopted that theme. And Madonna Badger, co-founder of Badgers & Winters, kicked off the conference at New York City's Manhattan Center by talking about her efforts to change the way advertising treats women, and challenging the audience to "do something about it" themselves.

Badger recounted how, as the senior art director at Calvin Klein, she spearheaded the now-classic Kate Moss and Marky Mark campaigns. Her early success led to the launch of her own firm in 1994. And her life and career would likely have followed this happy path had she not lost her parents and three children in a house fire on Christmas Eve 2008.

"Everyone died in the fire. I lived, and I didn't want to live," Badger said. "I was blown to bits, and I was nothing. I felt like nothing. I wanted to be nothing. I wanted to die."

It took several years and four mental facilities, but Badger eventually learned to feel happiness again. She went back to work, and in 2015, a pitch focused on red lipstick gave her life a new purpose. Badger and her team found that although young women adored wearing rouge lipstick, they said they'd never wear it when asking their bosses for a raise. There was a confidence gap between men and women, rooted in objectification, which prompted Badger to discover the reason why women were viewed this way: advertising. Immediately, Badger and her business partner, Jim Winters, decided to stop objectifying men and women in their advertising and challenged the industry to follow suit.

"I want you to know that I have made Kate Moss skinnier," said Badger. "I have given Marky Mark a really nice six-pack. I have certainly thinned out more supermodels, made their skin more perfect, made sexual objectifying ads as a way of clickbait. I have done personally all of those things; my background is in creative. I'm not proud of it, but I didn't know any better. And now that I do know better, not only have I stopped it, but I think we all need to stop it. As women, we will not be treated as equal until we are portrayed as equal."

That's what Badger is doing about it, she said. She closed her remarks with three takeaways: Don't be the victim of your own life; you can create change and there is nothing to be afraid of. She also issued a call to action to ask the Cannes Lions Festival to stop admitting objectifying ads into its awards show.

Conference founder Gordon had earlier given an opening speech announcing the 3% Conference was revamping its website to become the No. 1 resource for diversity in advertising. It's also looking for better ways to include people of color in its 26,000-member community, whether that's through speaker series or research.

"So many people have said to me, 'What you are trying to do is impossible,'" Badger said. "Here's what Muhammad Ali, my fellow Kentuckian said about impossible: 'Impossible is just a big word thrown around by small men who find it easier to live in the world they've been given than to explore the power they have to change it. Impossible is not a fact; it's an opinion. Impossible is not a declaration; it is a dare. Impossible is potential. Impossible is temporary. Impossible is nothing."

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