Are advertisers taking advantage of feminism?

Since Sheryl Sandberg’s iconic Ted talk and follow up book there’s been a new movement of women “leaning in” in the corporate world, demanding their place at the table and a share of senior management roles. And there’s no shortage of brands keen to join the movement also.

Sandberg’s meaning of feminism is quite different to the bra burning stereotypes you may have. Feminism is simply about gender equality, creating a world in which men feel just a comfortable staying home with the kids as a woman does in C-Suite management positions.

“I embrace the word ‘feminism.’ I didn’t do it earlier in my career and I talk about why in the book, but I embrace it now because what feminism is, is a belief that the world should be equal, that men and women should have equal opportunity” ~ Sheryl Sandberg

While I have embraced this with open arms and personally prescribe to Sandberg’s “lean in” philosophies, I’ve also noticed that advertisers have been quick to jump on this bandwagon. This concerns me, as we marketers tend distort things a tad when we add a commercial filter.

With so many brands using a feminist agenda as an advertising tool do we risk trivalising the cause?

Pantene “Labels” 

One of the first feminist beauty marketing campaigns to go viral was this video by Pantene, which according to Time ”deftly breaks down the double standards men and women face in the workplace”. It shows, quite effectively the different labels used in the workplace, such as how a man in charge is termed a “boss,” but a woman in charge is “bossy.” At the time of writing it had 46 million YouTube views. Meaning it’s prompted a lot of conversations about gender equality, while also being an incredibly successful marketing campaign.

But are we naively overlooking that the message is built on the premise that conquering the labels holding you back professionally is somehow easier with shiny hair?


Nestle “5 to 9” 

Acccording to Nestle’s research long gone are the days of working ‘9 to 5′. The new trend among working women shows that nearly half (47 per cent) of women aged 25-44 in Australia, are working ‘5 to 9’, with 61 per cent working between nine and twenty hours per day (Nestle press release)! This lead them to introduce a Nescafe campaign targeting busy women who identify with the 5 to 9 lifestyle, because a coffee break can ‘make all the difference’. 

Always “Like a girl”

This documentary style video questions at what point during growing up does “like a girl” stop being positive and become an insult. The video was accompanied by a social media campaign #LikeAGirl – sponsored by the company Always (who is owned by giant consumer company Procter & Gamble as is Pantene).

The end of the video asks an important question “why can’t run like a girl also mean win the race?”. I think it’s also worth pondering whether a commercial message can influence social change without trivialising it? 

Individually each of these campaigns get people talking and discussing gender issues which is of course positive. It’s unlikely that the same exposure would be possible without the financial strength of these brands. But the line between socialism and commercialism is tenuous if we’re not careful. It’s a line I hope brands treat with respect. If feminism is seen as just an advertising tool for selling shampoo, tampons and coffee then it will inevitably undermine the social change it’s trying to affect.

What do you think? Do these brands truly want to support a new feminism movement and progress gender equality – or is it just about selling products? I would be really interested to hear what you think! Please leave a thought or two below.

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