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Enough: The death of Caroline Flack raises urgent questions for our industry

24 Feb 2020  |  Nicola Kemp 
Enough: The death of Caroline Flack raises urgent questions for our industry

How can we talk about responsibility in advertising if we don’t tackle the reality of a media ecosystem that hounds women to death, asks Nicola Kemp

Where will it end? As news that Love Island presenter Caroline Flack has taken her own life, the collective anger is understandable. We can’t find the words.

Grief is jagged and unpredictable. For those of us who have watched people we love struggle with the black dog of mental health issues, a simple fact is clear: we must give equal footing to mental and physical health. We simply don’t know what people are walking into a room with; it is not glib to remind ourselves that kindness really is everything.

The truth is we should be asking a different question entirely: where should we begin? Because we can’t go on like this, professionally or personally. We can’t preach the importance of mental health within the companies and brands we work for while investing our eyeballs or advertising spend in media platforms that do anything but. The brutal irony being that those same newspapers that hounded her in life are profiting from her death.

So ingrained in our media culture is this collective hatred, that we have even developed a language to describe it"

Brands and media agencies need to step up. The positive momentum the Conscious Advertising Network is building is charting a new path for brands. One not built on the profits of outrage, hate and shame. For while it is 2020, the brutal truth is we all play a role in a media ecosystem which routinely hounds, bullies and belittles any woman with even a modest public profile.

A toxic national past-time

Hounding women; as national past-times go there are few as uniquely toxic, damaging and devastating. Yet, so ingrained in our media culture is this collective hatred, that we have even developed a language to describe it.

The Daily Mail has the ‘side-bar of shame’, while on social media we have ‘dog-piling’; the practice where a disparate group of people come together to intimidate or bully an individual on social media channels.

We can’t find the words to talk about mental health and grief but we have a whole new lexicon with which to understand the cross-platform, multi-media web of hate.

Then there are the thousand tiny paper cuts of judgement facing woman with even a slither of power. Ask almost any woman with any kind of profile and she will have a story to tell. One in which she has been told she is in some way ‘too much’. Any woman who doesn’t conform, whether that’s through choosing to be childless or choosing to speak her mind, is subjected to a myriad of punishments.

Driven by a media narrative which feeds off outdated and damaging stereotypes; the ‘cougar’, the ‘spinster’, the ‘slut’. The unthinkable, the unprintable, the un-tweetable; all part of our daily diet of hate.

The accountability vacuum

So where do we begin? We start with accountability. In the midst of a steady stream of focus on building individual ‘resilience’, particularly amongst women, we need to take a long hard look at why we think this individual resilience is so important. Just what brutal inhumane behaviours are we subjecting people to, and what will it take to say enough?

As author and mental health campaigner Matt Haig wrote: “If a celebrity dies by suicide after a massive media onslaught this is manslaughter via the press. The media love ticking boxes and doing their mental health campaigns but fail to take any accountability when they impact people’s health.”

We need to stop talking about resilience; instead we need a revolution of kindness, compassion and of real responsibility. We may not know exactly where to start but we know where this story ends if we don’t have the courage to begin.


Nicola Kemp is the Managing Editor of BITE for Creativebrief

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07 Apr 2020 

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