Offensive Malala Ad From Ogilvy and Women’s Rights: Why it Matters

When I first enrolled in graduate school studying International Relations, I didn’t realize how much I would lean on my college-level marketing knowledge. Our culture and perceptions shape public opinion in areas of policy, but also in branding and advertising. And advertising and media shape public opinion, too.

There’s a reason political campaigns can’t lay off the TV commercials. They’re selling something, too. I often heard the phrase, “perception is reality” in marketing class, but it’s just as relevant to discussions of government legitimacy and democracy. I’m so thankful for my background. The global issues I studied in graduate school seep into my daily routine constantly through marketing.


Take this ad featuring Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistan teenager who became the target of a Taliban attack for vocalizing her desire for education. After almost dying from a gunshot wound to her head, Malala has addressed the United Nations, released a memoir and become a symbol for the importance of educating girls. And recently, a retelling of her story appeared in this mattress ad from Ogilvy & Mather in India.

And of course there was a swift apology. I’ve never worked at an ad agency. In fact, I accepted a long time ago that I shouldn’t waste time applying at agencies – they seem to like applicants who fall neatly into a pre-determined box. Though I now specialize in strategic engagement, that clearly isn’t me. However, I remain confident that they already have formal review processes in place.

Ogilvy found itself apologizing because there are large groups of people who would prefer to see women pushed down, people who think things are fine just they way they are. It seems some of those people worked on this. The internet then carried it around the world, where it met outrage. In this ad, we can see global battle for the rights of women. A few people have commented online that this ad celebrates Malala’s recovery, rather than laughing at her. This fails my BS meter.

And if you think it’s not that big a deal, consider the following statements:

  • In some parts of the world, being a young married woman is one of the highest indicators of being HIV positive.
  • Although women make up approximately half of the world’s population, they are significantly more likely than men to live in poverty. In fact, due to gender-based violence, the world is missing hundreds of millions of women and girls, making the poverty statistics even starker.
  • The well-being of women will play a critical role in creating a secure future for everyone in the world.

Awhile back, I started this website to shine a light on these issues. I think I’m going to create a much more in-depth learning tool on the web for my final project for cs50. Stay tuned.


If you care about this issue even a little bit, please tweet about it, or read Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.

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