How Madonna Badger Shaped DEI in Advertising
Brand-Side
Brand-Side

Episode · 7 months ago

How Madonna Badger Shaped DEI in Advertising

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In advertising, image is everything. 

Yet in a world quickly getting onboard with DEI, only 0.1% of agencies are founded by women. 

Today, I had the opportunity to speak with Madonna Badger , Chief Creative Officer and Founder at Badger Agency, about her journey in changing advertising by recognizing shortcomings in DEI and reshaping conversations around unconscious bias. 

Join us as we discuss:

  • Madonna’s journey through the advertising industry
  • Navigating conversations on diversity in casting and hiring
  • Why brands are starting to see the value of DEI in their advertising

Find this interview and many more by subscribing to BRAND-SIDE on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, or on our website.  

Welcome to brand side, a new podcast by Celtra, where we interview marketing creative operations and desire meters to find out what life is like in house, first agency side and how big creative ideas come to life at the world's best brands. This is brand side by Sultra. Welcome to grandside, a podcast on all things advertising and creative. My name is Christine, I'm your host and I think the episodes coming out in April only. But I could not have gotten a better guest on today to discuss women in advertising. And she's also known as the lioness who roared. Madonna Badger founded and leads Badger Agency. She has dedicated her life to improving how women are represented, served and hired in the Ad Industry, where only zero point one percent of agencies are founded by women. Madonna successfully lobby can lines to prohibit work that objectifies women. Fantastic achievement, and today she works with brands like Peng Al a and HP. It is an absolute honor to have you on the show. Welcome, Madonna Badger gray wonderful. Thank you, Christine. And so for me, what is so amazing about having this conversation today is that you really are a legend in the industry and, more importantly, you've been promoting women's Indi issues long before it was demanded or mandated or even, shall we call it, trendy? And but before we get into all of that, I want to know who is Madonna Badger and and what is your career story? What brought to you where you are today? Oh my goodness. Well, I've had a really amazing career with a lot of luck and a lot of hard work. And as it relates to Dei and I think what happened when I was in the sixth grade, believe it or not, in Louisville, Kentucky, where Brown versus the board of Education went into effect and essentially I was bust to an all black neighborhood and you know, in my neighborhood and in Kentucky there were no black people. So suddenly I was in a, you know, school that was much more segregated and obviously the the neighborhood was totally different, and that experience completely imprinted me in a way that, you know, I understood from that entire time that color doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter at all. You know, it matters obviously if you are a person of color and what you have to cope with, but in terms of so much of how we look at the world and, you know, assests the world. How I looked at the world, as you know, a young girl, and my parents, how they looked at the world was completely altered by basically that inclusive experience, and so that is something that has not only, you know, made me a better person but, I think, also...

...a better agency owner and somebody that's really dedicated to diversity and equality and an inclusion. Yeah, it's interesting because I remember having a similar experience, albeit different. You know, I come from originally from Helsinki, Finland, but I happen to live in one of those neighborhoods where a lot of refugees came in from places like Costabo or Somalia, and so a lot of my classmates in primary school came from these war turn areas and but for us it was, you know, that that was our neighborhood, that was the makeup of our community and our friends and really it took me a long time to actually realize, and especially moving over here in the US, where race issues are front and center in a very different way, than how they are in Europe and how that early experience also had impacted how I see the world as a white woman, as a person off the sort of the more privileged side of things. But and the things that, to me, what really is fascinating and what I want to dive into with you is that, you know, you founded the Badger Agency that was back then called Badger and winters already back in one thousand nine hundred and ninety four, and so I can only imagine what the environment was like for for women that long ago. So how did the industry receive your vision back then? What was it was it like to get started? I'd been at Calvin Clin and, you know, done the mark and mark campaigns and Kate Moss and all of those sort of things and, you know, basically wanted to start my own agency. You know, I had nothing to lose. That's how I felt and you know, I had a petty cash box full of money on my desk and that was it. But you know, when I started, you know, I was a very different person than that I am now coming from Calvin and you know sort of the I mean I don't really feel like in many ways Calvin objectified men and women, although that did happen later on and I think in some ways, but certainly when I was there, it was a much more empowered sexuality. HMM. Of course there's nothing wrong with being sexual and empowered and you know that sort of a thing. But anyway, so when I started my agency I did a lot of that same type of work and also did work that was so much about beauty and fashion, but trying to bring a very powerful look and a very powerful tone to what we did for women. And it wasn't until after, you know, the fire where my, you know, family died, that I looked at what I had done in my life and in terms of work wise, and I really made a decision to do it differently, really do work that made a difference in the world and that...

...had a creative point of view that was about not only for women but in total diversity, for everyone to really be in to show up in the advertising, etc. So that's how women not objects was born. And so then when you brought this vision to the industry, because I remember as a as a budding copywriter back in two thousand and ten when I started my career, at least in Europe, those things were not really discussed. You know, we weren't talking about, okay, how many female leaders or female founders, or how are we pert trained women in advertising? That just wasn't really discussed. How do you feel that the industry received your vision? Was it celebrated right away, or was it an uphill battle for you? I think that a couple things. One is, you know, I knew that if I could get in front of the main you know, creatives, the industry at can and basically make the case of how much objectification was harming women and little girls and everyone that I knew that if people knew that they were harming people, they would stop. And so after women on objects, everything changed. CARLS, junior, they changed, go daddy change, everyone change. And you know, partly because at can, if you objectified a woman or man in your ad then you know it was disqualified. So that was sort of the end result of women not objects. But the important part about it is I think that people just didn't know how much they were seeing. You know, people didn't know how prevalent it all really was. And what women not objects did is it made it so that people were suddenly face, you know, face to face with the objectification of women. And on top of that, you know, we also showed, you know in my presentation, that this has been going on since forever, you know, whether it's vanguard cigarettes with naked women or Stewart whitesman shoes with naked women. I mean this is and the nakedness is the objectification in that they don't have a reason, a plot, they don't have a narrative. You know, they are basically just objects selling things. So that was really a huge turning point for me personally in terms of making a difference and seeing how great creative can make a difference and also great insights can make a difference, and that that became my passion and still is to day. It is so inspirational to me. You know...

...you are today, you your mainstay. A canjuries you mentor the seat beat program for rising female talent and just to force in the industry, and I think that takes a lot of resilience and you've had this vision. I want to know how have you stayed on path for three decades? You know, it's a simple and it's a powerful vision, but I can also imagine that there's been a lot of bumps on the road and obstacles. What keeps you going? HMM, that's a good question. I think more than anything else, I love my job. You know, I really love my job. I love my work and I love the people that I were with. You know that, whether it's here at the agency or my clients, you know they have the same for the most part, they have the same vision. You know, they want what we have and so, you know, that's an incredible journey and so, you know, that is the I think, more than anything else, what keeps me going is that I see the difference. You know, we did no kids and cages, and you know that was so instrumental in turning up the volume in terms of what was going on at the border, you know, when everybody else was just talking about trump, trump, trump, all the time, and suddenly, you know, became like a huge topic because of the creative that we had done. And you know, I love advertising because it's, Ah, we program you know, it's like it's so we it's so collaborative, and that gives me a lot of resilience, a lot of pope. I love collaborating and, you know, working through things with my clients, with the people that work here you know, it's just I'm feel very blessed to have such a great job. You know, my wildest dreams I never thought that, you know, would be I would be at this point. You know, ever, in my career. I think the industry is is equally as lucky to have you. And what I what I just love about your everything that you've achieved. It really is it takes one person and with a vision and and resilience and just getting getting that done, and right now it you know, you have turned this into a benchmark of how you create inclusive work and how you also influence change at large in the industry. And so I'm also wondering now that I want to say maybe in the past four years or so the industry has really dialed up the conversation around inclusivity, around women, around Di are you seeing that also in terms of clients coming here and brand's coming in and having conversations with you that they may have not have maybe half a decade ago? Absolutely, you know, the it's no longer okay to be, you know, an all white agency that all came out of the same university or school or whatever. I mean, clients and brands are demanding that are the makeup...

...of our agencies are as divers as you know, the people that we're basically advertising to and as we see, you know, Latin x growth, as we see a you know, African American growth, all of that growth means that we have to reflect back to the world, you know, this sort of people that that we want working on our accounts and then we want to appeal to through our creative and so, yes, are my clients are one thousand percent dedicated to diversity and inclusion and they have one thousand percent expectations that. You know, I have a group of people here that reflect the consumers that they wanted to reach absolutely. You know, we recently conducted some consumer research into how people are viewing diversity in advertising, and I believe it was around maybe two thirds. That said that advertising sometimes are always misses the mark when they're trying to represent a certain group, which to me says that there're still is a lot of work to be done in terms of having people on creative teams that know how to speak to a certain culture or a certain segment of the of the nation. Really, and I was kind of curious to kind of dig into your ethos and your how the Badger Agency creates work. So what is your process into crafting stories set positively represent the people of different backgrounds on the or the target audience that the brand has? You know, I mean it's so it's basically the truth. I mean, that's it. I mean that's what great storytelling comes from, right, is an actual truth. And so, you know, the idea of what we did for maximize, don't minimize me, which was a piece that we did for relay and all, the overarching idea was, hey, man, I'm not a number. You know, I'm a woman, you know I'm a woman of Color, I'm don't take me down to a percentage or number. Treat me like a whole human and strong person. And I think that that's the real narrative, is not to get into choosing people based on percentages or makeup, but choosing people based on their gifts, based on who they are what they bring to the table. You know that if you, you know, have a group of people that all went to pain and they have different, you know, skin color, but are from the same sort of privileged background, then really are they? You know, of course, of course that's a form of diversity, but you understand what I mean. WILL DIS from different ZIP codes and and, you know, different names, the way people, you...

...know, have their name there. I mean it's so obvious with this new Supreme Court nominee and just you know what they're putting her through base. I think what on her name. But Anyway, the point is is that diversity comes from everywhere, though. That's basically the internal. The external is that, you know, it's not about check the box. You know, a black person, a white person, an Asian person, I love you know, it's like who's the best person in this casting? What's the best idea that we have? You know, if it's about love, does it have to be about heterosexual love? Can it be about kinds of love? You know, if it's about getting it's not a Rubex cube where you put the puzzle pieces together and outcomes diversity. You know, diversity is as rich and as glorious as it is in human life. I mean, what right? And so our jobs as good creatives is to make sure that we tell that story in a way that people want to see it, want to feel it, want to be a part of it. So I have a follow up question on that, because you mentioned casting and I think that that is one of the treckiest conversations to have today, because you do have to address things like diverse city off different body types or different nitnicities or LGBTQ. But then sometimes you also have to have those tough conversations where maybe the storyline calls for okay, no, so in this instance we perhaps need to go with this white person, or perhaps we need to give feedback that is very tough to give with doubt coming off as being opposed to diversity or trying to walk that thin line of not offending everybody. But I think casting conversations are especially tough at this time. How do you navigate those? You know, I just focused everybody on choosing the best person. Yeah, you know, that's it. WHO's the person? You know, with the brief and what we want to create, who's the best person? And you know, it's like, I think you know that show. I'm going to botch this because I bought all names of shows, but it's Brigod dear Brigad Doune, you know what I'm talking about, Bridgerson. Thank you. Yes, yeah, and so you know, it's like you see that kind of you know TV or you know that sort of casting. And of course, it doesn't matter who's white and who's not and who's this and who's that. It's the best person for the job, you know, and that, for me, is the best way to cast, is to make sure that you're getting the right person for...

...the job and then also say to yourself, Hey, is this enough diversity? Do we have enough? Because it's our job to make sure that we're reflecting back to the world, you know, the culture that we all live in. So yeah, I mean I think it's, you know, both of those things. It's a responsibility and it's also a creative choice. It is, it is and at the same time it's also I think what's also tough about getting it right is that then, especially if we look into big holding companies and networks and you know, they want to have a standardized way of reviewing their work at large and saying, Hey, we have represented enough diversity in the work as a whole. But if you're a person looking from the outside and you're not within that process of briefing, production and casting, and it can be difficult saying from the outside, okay, this is the we did grade as an agency as a whole or we did not. But if you have to kind of see every every case and every campaign from the Lens of what that campaign needs to achieve, right. But I do think it, and I agree with you, takes that intentionality of asking yourself those questions and on that realm. I I wanted to also know how do you and the creative teams that you lead approach it from the Lens of making inclusive and and and representation that's positive? What are the questions that your teams are asking themselves, especially if, you know, we're trying to kind of look beyond our unconscious biases. You know, I'm a white woman. I think x, Y and Z. How can you kind of like shake that way of thinking and look it from a different angle as well? I mean I think it is a you know, you said it. I mean, you know, if we live in a world of unconscious bias, which we do, we have to be conscious about our choices. And that's really the bottom line. It's you know, when and within creative and within what we're doing. You know, the truth is is that again, the culture is reflecting back to us a culture that's very different, and this all white world that a lot of people want to continue live in. But on top of that, Gen Z, and you know Gen x, I mean sorry, millennials, and Gen Z are very white, Latin X, African, American whatever, are demanding diversity within creative and they're demanding stories that reflect their own stories, about same sex love, about women being literally in the driver's seat of you know, purchasing cars, women being, you know, empowered, women of color, you know, showing up in a way that is out of this sort of stereotype or the typical stuff that goes on. So all of...

...that, I think, makes a huge difference because it is intentional, but it's also can be built into the creative in a way that makes sense, you know, to the overarching idea, and that part I love to so, you know, it's kind of all of those pieces that come together, you know, reflecting the world as it is, you know, turning your unconscious bias into conscious diversity, conscious equality, conscious inclusiveness and, you know, making sure that whatever it is that you are creating or that you you know, have the opportunity to show the world, that you make sure they show the world a much more diverse place than most ad agencies. Absolutely and on that realm, I know that your your agency is currently, I believe your creative team is seventy percent percent women. Is that correct? And so you are clearly intentional about inclusive talent acquisition. And so what is the process like for you and how have you been able to succeed with this? Because, you know, when we have these conversations you often hear this phrase thrown around. All there's no talent. I would hire diverse talent, but I can't find it. You obviously have found it. So how did you do it? Well, I think it's sort of a double you know, it's sort of two sides of the point. One is, you know, because we became so well known for women, not objects, etc. You know women are especially interested in working here. People that like the idea of purpose and purposeful advertising, purposeful creative and that tends to be women and Ander, you know, are different ways that we know, linkedin and whatever, put out into the world to get so when I'm trying to it's a long way of saying that, you know, it's a lot of women apply for our jobs, which is great. The other piece is that, you know, we have plenty of men that work here and it's I don't know, there's something, you know, there's something so important about Gen z where they really do live in a genderless world. They really don't want to live in a world filled with gender and labels and all of these sort of things. And so it's the people that are drawn to us that really help make up who we are. And then it's basically hiring the best talent that comes that pool of people. But if you know, if a man were more you know, we're better equipped than a woman, I wouldn't hesitate to hire man.

But it is in our case. It we're just very fortunate that we have a lot of women that want to work here. So we have a deep pool and then we make it our business, you know, to make sure that we have that deep pool, that that's a part of our ethos of who we are. And you know, empathy is such a big part of the ethos of this agency, and so, you know, making sure that the men that work here, the women that work here, are all, you know, from that kind of nurturing empathetic ethos, which I think is why our creative is the way that it is. Hmm, I guess that one learning to kind of draw from that. If we have other agency people listening, is that you have to really build that employer brand as well that attracts the kind of diverse talent that you're now also willing to hire and looking for. One of the things that I personally think that is still kind of hindering the equality off or having more diverse people in leadership positions is that for anyone other than white men, the the the bar is so much higher. A female leader has to be perfect, they have to have the XYZ acculate. Same goes for for like bipop leaders or LGBTQ. There's just so much more that the industry still asking of them that they have to check all of these boxes, whereas maybe in the case so of white men, often you can be more, let's say, mediocre and still get hired for the job. So I also think that, and maybe this is a hot take, but I also think that there should be more room in also hiring mediocre leadership talent from Adi Perspective, because if you're getting these giving these chances to a certain group of people like white men, we should have the same criteria also for women, for people of Color, and we shouldn't hold them to a higher standard where they need to be absolutely perfect to make the cut, but then we have a different set of standards if, let's say, you're a white man. I don't know what you think about that, but that's my opinion as well. Yeah, no, I mean my take on that is it's important to hire people for their potential, you know, and if we you know, how boring to hire people based on, you know, their perfection, perfect whatever way that they can do the job. You know, the it's their growth that needs to happen. And you know, I mean I'm a big proponent of it's important that we all are in this together. You know that we need men to be on our side as much as we need to be on their side. You know that that we're all in it together. Isn't one against the other, you know, and so the more we can, I don't know, the more we can make sure that that...

...we are hiring people because of their abilities and their experience, but also their potential to really make that job great, I love it. I love that. That's my favorite thing is to, you know, have young people start here and, you know, my God, I have people that have been here for eight, nine years, you know, first job out of college, never left and you know, they're brilliant, you know, and so yeah, so I think it's like, you know, listen, that Bro Culture is like alive and well, you know, I sit on enough juries to listen to the that culture. And how much, though, know, go down fighting for one another. So I think we have to be as diligent and as supportive. There is plenty of Bro Culture in this agency world and they will go down fighting, they will go down really not letting anybody in. And I've seen it and I've been on the you know, juries and I've watched it in action and you know, it's incredibly sad and horrible because and then for as many men that may act like that, or even women, quite frankly, of you know, again, jet or doesn't really pick. But you know, I've also seen the opposite where, you know, there are people that are no greater mentor no Greater, you know, sponsor than a man who you know believes in you and it's sure that you know that the their team is in good shape or their you know, moving to the next level, whatever, whatever. So I mean, you know, it is in some ways it is a case by case basis, even though it's a systemic problem, you know, and so I think the best thing we can do, I mean I you know, I think that I haven't really had that conversation completely with male leaders. You know, for the I mean you know again, for the most part it's kind of energy that you put out. You know, it's like, you know, the if the energy is all men are terrible and all men are bad and all men are ruining the agents the agency world, then that's kind of what you get back. But if the IT my personal message, my personal belief is, Hey, man, I know you didn't mean to do this. I know you didn't mean to hurt anyone with your you know, carls junior ad or with your you know, go daddy ad or whatever. I know you didn't mean to hurt young women who are suffering believing how the look is who they...

...are, but it's happening. And you know, for the my experience has been from, you know, Phil who runs can, you know, to young creatives, you know, male creatives from Brazil, from all over the world. You know, they want to do the right thing and they want to make it different, and I would say that the percentage is in that favor of want to do the right thing, you know. So I think it's like if you treat people you know that they're going to be against you, then they'll be against you know. But if you treat people like, you know, men, everybody, if you treat them like hey, I know you want to do the right thing, then they want to do the right thing. You know. HMM, that's yeah, and I think there is like more room for having those conversations between female and male and non binary leaders within the industry, because it has largely being this. Women are now that we have a voice and we can talk about it. This is our opinion. But where do we have that dialog between the two and again, where do we come together? And it's about being able to have those tough conversations, because they are tough. And initially, who even if it's you know, if and if it's you who's being critique do you know? Your first reaction is to be defensive. But I'm not like that. But I'm not a bad person and I didn't mean that, but we need to kind of step outside of ourselves a little bit and and see from the perspective of, Oh, Hey, this is a situation and these are the things that are harming certain groups in our industry and what can I do personally to improve the situation? And I think there's still some room for those, those conversations. But I agree with you, with a lot of the men that I know in the industry, creative leaders, they're absolutely out there, like they want to do the right thing and they want to learn, and I love that the conversation is shifting towards that. So we still have a little bit of time left. Then I want US shift back to the work that you're doing and that the Badger Agency is doing. Is there a piece of work that you're especially proud off that you have produced of late? We just did a piece for Olay cold decode the bias, and it's was done with Dr Joy Boulanweeny, who just got her PhD from Mit and essentially, you know, she's the allay. Our ambition, our brand ambition, is to double the number of women in stem by twenty thirty and triple the number of women of color by thirty. So stem is a big part of the brand. And basically, you know, the idea that joy, you know, wanted to explore was what happens when you put in beautiful skin in Google or beautiful woman, and inevitably it's a white woman. You know, it's a whole white women, and so the whole premise behind it was where the women of...

...color like what, what in the world is going on here? Like, if I'm fourteen years old and I put in the words beautiful skin and all I see is white women, what is that? And I'm a little, you know, a little black girl. How's that going to make me feel? You know, horrible. So, anyway, it was just about the importance of coding and we're sending a thousand girls to Code Camp and, you know, just really bringing to the forefront this idea that we're all beautiful. You know that basically it was just, you know, it's so great to do relevancy work that makes a difference for every single person that sees it. You know, can rethink. Yeah, representation is so powerful. I remember doing this one campaign earlier on in my career back in Finland, where we were. We were working with this fast fashion brand from Finland and we actually convinced them to change their sizing to fit better the the Finnish woman and not the Central European. That's very, you know, very slim, very petite and it did not fit the audience, and I just remember going into the stores and kind of eavesdropping on on the women who would see our swimsuit campaign with women of all shapes and sizes, which, you know, for that time, and you know this was before it was mainstream how it is today, and just like being able to clear them say hey, that person actually looks like me. It's so powerful. So I really plaud you for the work that you've done for all a with decode the bias. Just such a powerful idea and concept. I know that there are so many women in the industry that really look up to you and admire you, but I want to ask, and this is my last question, who are the women that you admire in the industry and what makes them special? I mean, the first person that came to my mind is Rosemary Ryan at co collective and just all of her incredible thought leadership, what she is created with her agency, her podcast about fem washing and just who she is as a person is just incredible. Her career is incredible and I just so admire her. Not only is she brilliant, of course, and smart, and I don't mean that in a dismissive way. I mean she's brilliant and she's smart and she's also disruptive. She's also making difference. And then, you know, calling to courcy, who just retired from wine and Kennedy, I mean what just that creative force she has been and her leadership, I think, among women has been so incredible. And you know the Times that she's said things to me at can and you know, I just felt like I was floating, not air,...

...you know, just little things she would say and help me see things differently when I would ask her a question or whatever. And you know that's such a rare what a gift. Both she and and Rosemary have that gift. HMM. So I would say those two women are especially incredible to me. They're not my great friends or anything like that, but I've always, you know, I admire them. MMMM. And with that, if you're listening to this this today, make sure to send a little note or say a few words of kindness to the women you admire, whether they are your colleagues or other people at your agency or even on your own, your client side. I think it's so wonderful always to pay that for it. With that, I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this podcast and sharing your wisdom. It has been absolutely wonderful. If people want to follow you, I'm sure they can find your own linkedin your very active there. You're sharing your agencies work and if I bump into you, it can. I'll be waving you over and I'll come over and say hi. It's just has been an amazing conversation and I've learned so much. Madonna, thank you. Thank you so much for asking me. It's been great. Thank you. You've been listening to brand side. If you like what you heard, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player. If you'd like to learn more about creative production automation, is IT SOULTRACOM? Thanks for listening. Until next time, te.

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