The saga continues. To catch you up, earlier this month, writer Karen Knowlton took to Medium to air her frustrations about what she viewed as sexism and inequity in surf advertising aimed at women – Billabong was her target. Her piece, titled “F*ck You Billabong. Seriously, f*ck you” quickly snowballed around the internet, and a week later we asked if she’d be kind enough to write a follow-up about the response she received. In it, she mentioned that Billabong had since changed the image that set her off, but made no mention of any official word from the apparel brand.
Yesterday, though, New Zealand news site Stuff published an opinion piece that uses Knowlton’s criticisms of Billabong to look at women in advertising more broadly. In an updated version of the article, they include the following response they received from Billabong:
“Billabong Women’s aims to get the balance right between the hundreds of athlete, advocate, fashion and lifestyle images that we use on our websites and social media channels every day.
“To do that, we listen closely to the millions who follow the brand and, overwhelmingly, the feedback is positive. When it’s not, we’re very open to other views and perspectives, including about imagery or placement. Recently, we took the feedback and made a change to our website.
“We’re up for a respectful conversation, but we don’t encourage or respond to people who verbally abuse our staff online, in person or who encourage others to do so.
“Billabong invests very significantly in supporting and promoting professional female surfers, using a range of imagery they’re comfortable with. We’re proud of them and the stories we tell.
“They feature heavily in all market-facing material and regularly on the landing pages for our global websites.
“We feel comfortable that we listened to our customers and the community, and responded to their concerns.”
Hmm… responded to concerns? Debatable. The photo’s been changed, but it really seems the original post hints at a deeper problem in surf advertising and advertising more broadly. But if patriarchy is to blame, is Billabong responsible much less capable of a prolonged fix? And that goes for any brand. I suspect other brands didn’t even bother taking notes or holding meetings to ensure they weren’t the subject of the next op-ed.
Anyway, imagery isn’t a problem, it’s a symptom of something bigger. See also: “No Girls Allowed” and “(Surfing), Tits, and Ass” from The Inertia contributor Ted Endo.