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Jean Kilbourne Quotes

Jean Kilbourne

Jean Kilbourne quotes: enlightenment from the ad activist.

“I started collecting ads and talking about the image of women in advertising in the late 1960s. As far as I know, I was the first person to do this. I tore ads out of magazines, put them on my refrigerator, and gradually, I began to see a pattern in the ads, a kind of statement about what it meant to be a woman in the culture. I put together a slide presentation and began traveling around the country.”

“When I started my career, there was no career! I couldn’t have said, ‘I want to have a slide show and travel around.'”

“It’s interesting because I had a terror of public speaking, which most people do. Americans fear public speaking more than death. I was always a pretty good public speaker, but that didn’t matter. Looking back, I was scared of the hostility that I was going to encounter, which, of course, I did. But I was passionate about it. I really felt that I was on to something, and I wanted to talk about it. I’ve always loved Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote, ‘You must do the thing you think you cannot do.’ I was passionate about the topic and so I just kept speaking out.”

“So I just did it, and each time it got easier. As I encountered the hostility, I discovered I could deal with it. Today, I can get up in front of 5,000 people and my heart doesn’t even skip. In the early days, I was so nervous. It’s been a long, interesting path, but I found ways to disarm audiences. I’m not hostile, so that was helpful. I used a lot of humor. I learned early on to address the main arguments against what I was saying in the first five minutes of my talk. So that people wouldn’t sit the whole time thinking, ‘Yeah well, but I’m not influenced by advertising.'”

“I was a waitress and had an opportunity to become a model. Then something would happen where I would feel objectified. There was no language like objectification or anything like that in those days. I was just supposed to be grateful. I would stop modeling, and go back to being a secretary. Then another gig would come along, it was gradual. I didn’t choose it as a career path.”

“Eventually I became a teacher and used my slide presentation of ads with my students. It became a very effective way to teach about sexism and stereotypes. One thing led to another and people heard that I had this interesting slide presentation and I was invited to speak to larger and larger groups.”

“Most of the time when I was modeling, I was living in London. Once I dated Ringo Starr, the drummer from the Beatles. These were the days before everyone took pictures of everything so I could be making this whole thing up but I’m not!”

“So modeling was one of the very few ways that a woman could make money in those days. It was very seductive, but for me it was also alienating, it was soul-destroying. There was a whole lot of sexual harassment that came with the territory, so I didn’t follow that path. But it left me with a lifelong interest in the whole idea of beauty and the power of the image.”

“So much of a woman having a career depends on having money to afford support. It’s a different universe for someone like Sheryl Sandberg or the professional women she’s addressing, who can mostly afford help. The truth is most women who work can’t lean in if they can’t lean back and have somebody catch them. It’s a very individualistic, American approach: pull yourself up by your bootstraps. You can make it if you try hard enough.”

“Madeline Albright said, ‘There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.'”

“I have always been more about changing the public than changing the advertising industry. I feel that if people demanded better, then the advertising industry would have to change. So I focus more on being an educator, teaching media literacy and trying to raise consciousness.”

“Since that time, advertising has become much more widespread, powerful and sophisticated than ever before. Babies at the age of six months can recognize corporate logos, and that’s the age at which marketers are now starting to target our children. At the same time, just about everyone feels personally exempt from the influence of advertising. So wherever I go, what I hear more than anything else is: ‘I don’t pay attention to ads, I just tune them out. They have no effect on me.’ The influence of advertising is quick, cumulative, and for the most part, subconscious.”

“Ads sell more than products. They sell values, they sell images. They sell concepts of love and sexuality, of success and perhaps most important, of normalcy. To a great extent, they tell us who we are and who we should be.”

“One huge change in the world of advertising is the internet and the fact that most young people these days are getting these messages online and through social media. This changes everything because it makes it possible for advertisers to target people much more individually because they get so much information from Facebook and other social media platforms.”

“The fact is that much of advertising’s power comes from this belief that advertising does not affect us. The most effective kind of propaganda is that which is not recognized as propaganda. Because we think advertising is silly and trivial, we are less on guard, less critical, than we might otherwise be. It’s all in fun, it’s ridiculous. While we’re laughing, sometimes sneering, the commercial does its work.”

“Advertising and capitalism in general will always try to co-opt any serious movement for social change, whatever it might be.”

“Advertising is an over $200 billion a year industry. We are each exposed to over 3,000 ads a day. Yet, remarkably, most of us believe we are not influenced by advertising.”

“Advertising doesn’t cause addictions. But it does create a climate of denial and it contributes mightily to a belief in the quick fix, instant gratification, the dreamworld, and escape from all pain and boredom. All of this is part of what addicts believe and what we hope for when we reach for our particular substance. Addiction begins with the hope that something ‘out there’ can instantly fill up the emptiness inside. Advertising is all about this false hope.”

“The ideal consumer is someone who is constantly dissatisfied, constantly needs more and more products in order to feel better.”

“Girls get the message from very early on that what’s most important is how they look, that their value, their worth depends on that. And boys get the message that this is what’s important about girls. We get it from advertising. We get it from films. We get it from television shows, video games, everywhere we look. So no matter what else a woman does, no matter what else her achievements, their value still depends on how they look.”

“The single most important thing for children is to have at least one adult in their lives with whom they can have honest and authentic conversations. It’s great if this person is a parent, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be a teacher, a mentor, a caregiver. It also doesn’t have to be the same adult over time. Different people can play this important role.”

“Life is hard for all of us in one way or the other and we all sometimes have to put on a mask. We need safe spaces where we can take the masks off.”

“The more you subtract, the more you add.”

“People are willing to spend larger amounts of money on a certain brand because that specific brand’s advertisement was able to create a more lasting image in the mind of the consumer, even though this consumer would most likely not be able to tell the difference between brands if they were blindfolded.”

“Our need for social and personal change and power is often co-opted and trivialized into an adolescent and self-centered kind of rebellion.”

“We need a society that sees itself primarily as citizens rather than as consumers. What’s at stake for all of us is our ability to have authentic and freely-chosen lives, nothing less.”

“Insofar as you can, tell the truth about your life. When people get together and really tell the truth about their lives it’s just so beautiful. And you can understand just about anything.”

Cory Johnson: CEO of a business he has yet to launch. As seen on your mom’s phone. Scaled to 7-figures in seven seconds selling a course on selling courses. Kidding. Watch this.