You are a beautiful body acceptance empowered strong woman. You have girl power attitude, curves and #nomakeup. You are a black woman Latina proud Asian short tall skinny fat pink ribbon tiger mom perfect just the way you are. And you can do math! And science! And sports! Good for you, you lady b**tch vixen diva tomboy bada**es.
Does anyone remember about five years ago when you couldn’t throw a rock without hitting an ad with a supermodel in it? When only perfectly-coiffed, French-manicured women used cleaning products on the family toilet as far as the television was concerned?
And now you can’t turn on a screen without being hit by this feminist word salad accompanied by images of “real bodies,” cellulite, pimples and all, trying to sell soap.
Sure, the new ads connect more with the average woman who may feel inspired and seen by ads that more accurately depict them. You only need to look at the effectiveness of social media influencers to understand how much that relatability matters.
However, many of these brands have not earned a place in the feminist cause. Brands are selling something. That is the nature of a brand. So their motives can never be pure…unless that brand is specifically selling something that empowers women. Like Bumble.
We asked our team what did and didn’t seem to be working in the femvertising narrative, and these were the responses.
They’re certainly the first brand on my mind when it comes to women's empowerment. I think they were a combination of perfect product (a dating app that gives women all the leverage) by the perfect person (a woman burned by Tinder) at the perfect time (#MeToo), and they've really moved to capitalize on the moment. – Henry Martin, Chief Creative Officer
The “perfect product” made by the “perfect person” at the “perfect time” is what really separates Bumble from the herd. As a brand, they do not have to “jump on the bandwagon” of the movement, they are part of the movement. Campaigns such as Dove’s Real Beauty or Nike’s What Girls Are Made Of find a way to relate their products to the cause, but are ultimately selling soap and sportswear. Neither of which empowers anyone.
Moreover, there has been plenty of controversy over Dove’s parent company, Unilever, which also creates notoriously misogynistic ads for Axe Body Spray. Bumble, on the other hand, is expanding their cause to India:
A lot of women around the world don’t have the ability to make their choices for themselves. Bumble sort of gives women that. Whether it’s for love; whether it’s for business; whether it’s for your career or just finding relationship with friends, it gives you an entire social network made by women for everyone. I loved the idea of helping spread that throughout the world. – Priyanka Chopra interviewed by Forbes
While I'm all for brands latching on to social issues, the trick, as always, is doing it well. Dove? Check. Under Armour? Yup. Always? Good stuff. MicroSoft? Maybe. But over-the-top attempts like Nike's "What Are Girls Made Of" are downright embarrassing. – Debby Johnson, AM Executive Vice President, Strategy & Planning
Consumers are paying attention to the brands that are playing the long game with feminism and those that are only wearing a dress for the day.
In this article for USA Today, Jess Weiner, CEO of consulting firm Talk to Jess says:
You have to look at brands and say, 'What else are they doing besides advertising to me? Where is their money going? Are they being part of the problem or the solution?' Many brands are not really walking their talk outside of their marketing circle.
As always, brands have to cultivate authenticity with their audience. When they are taking a stand on an issue, it is even more important that they put actions behind their buzzword salads.
WWE's decisions to add more female performers to its roster and strike "diva" from its vernacular helps put male and female WWE performers on more equal footing, but it's also good for business.
A narrative that has now shifted through sports with stories of real empowered women has penetrated "sports entertainment," where the writers can make the perfect story that will sell the most merch. – Alexandra Bohannon, AM Copywriter
The article Alexandra cites from NPR goes on to compare women’s empowerment in other arenas – the U.S. women’s soccer team, Serena Williams for tennis, Ronda Rousey for UFC – and their roles in making women’s sports must-see events.
We can all make our own judgments about the relative merits of any individual brand's attempts to speak within this narrative, but as to whether they should be allowed to, or whether they can possibly make a difference, I think the answers are obviously, and obviously.
If brands so successfully advanced sexist, misogynistic and cancer-inducing messages, as the analysis always goes, then you're already admitting the impact of their voices. So what if a company needs to sell more soap in order to hire more women to sell more soap? If they can sell more soap while also providing a platform for new and powerful voices, that sounds like a win-win to me. – Henry Martin
While there is plenty of skepticism about whether a brand’s intent to sell undermines the cause, the fact is that advertising brings the cause to a wider audience – even if the messaging is diluted.
According to this article from USA Today, women already hold the lion’s share of market power:
Women are a big target for marketers. They drive 70% to 80% of consumer spending with their purchasing power and influence, according to Boston Consulting Group. Women influence 91% of all home purchases, and 75% identify themselves as the primary shoppers for their households, according to Bridget Brennan, founder and CEO of Female Factor.
With those stats in mind, brands that haven’t entered the conversation on women’s empowerment probably should.