Women’s History Month was conceived of as a time to acknowledge and pay tribute to the innumerable women who helped build this country. Today it is observed in variety of ways, from organizations publishing profiles of trailblazing female employees to libraries flipping books by male authors backward to draw attention to the female authors in their collection. It is also increasingly a time when some brands, looking to widen their appeal among female consumers, inject their ad campaigns with feminist flair. Enter femvertising, which marketing pro and masters in communications candidate Alexis Craze does a great job of explaining in her Spark Page report on the topic.
Femvertising is defined by SheKnows Media, which awards one winner in the category annually, as “advertising that employs pro-female talent, messages and imagery to empower women and girls.” It gained some traction in 2004 with Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign, but within the last several years it has become a veritable bandwagon. On the surface femvertising appears to be win-win for consumers and brands. Not only does it (ideally) deliver a positive social impact, but it turns out messages of female empowerment are good for the bottom line. However, femvertising is not without baggage.
Pantene’s 2014 “Sorry Not Sorry” is an oft-cited example of one of the major pitfalls of femvertising: the co-opting of feminist concepts to pedal products that ultimately uphold gender norms. In the spot, women are shown apologizing repeatedly until the pivot (ta-da!) when they realize they don’t need to be sorry—for speaking their minds or having shiny hair. Similarly, CoverGirl’s “Girls Can” campaign has been criticized for cashing in on female empowerment while failing to acknowledge its role in propagating problematic beauty standards for generations.
Baggage aside, there are some truly inspiring and groundbreaking ads in the category and today we’d like to explore what makes them stand out from the pack.
Organic Valley “Organic Balance”
The most effective femvertisements broaden and diversify representations of women and womanhood with more realistic and accurate reflections. This ad is an appreciated reality check on common aspirational tropes of women in advertising (and, dare we say, Instagram): most of us don’t spend our mornings journaling in journal nooks nor eating farm-fresh breakfasts with tiny spoons. The humor and savviness of this spot make it fun to watch, but we love that the premise is based on research that Organic Valley conducted as part of a larger commitment to understanding its female customers. (See their Real Morning Report here.)
Girls Who Code “Why Can’t Girls Code?”
Girls Who Code is a nonprofit whose mission is levelling the gender disparity in tech. This video works so well in part because it’s not selling anything other than empowerment. Nonprofits or philanthropic orgs surely have a leg up when it comes to social messaging. However, there is a lesson at the heart of it that may be useful to all brands: femvertising works best when you’ve moved beyond thinking of it as such. That is to say, when female empowerment is not a fad or a talking point that you’re working to incorporate, but a robust and relevant part of your mission and products or services. At that point, you have an authentic story to tell.
Case in point on a corporate entity moving beyond femvertising as a fad: Always has made it their mission to champion girls’ confidence, noting that when puberty hits, girls’ self-esteem typically plummets. They partner with the United Nations, the Olympic Committee, and Ted to that end. This foundational commitment gives them the platform to make a commercial such as this one from 2014, which brings authenticity to the forefront as we watch teenagers and young girls unpack the negative connotations of the expression “like a girl.” The result is at moments heartbreaking, but also transformative.
The National Lottery and Sport England “This Girl Can”
This energetic spot from Sport England and The National Lottery was an answer to research they conducted which indicated that in England, two million fewer 14- to 40-year-old women play sports than men, despite 75 percent of that demographic saying they want to be more active. The commercial is meant to encourage participation and help women overcome fear of judgment of body type or ability. We love seeing non-celebrity women working it—unselfconsciously. Once again, authenticity and realism informed by research wins.
Goldie Blox & Rube Goldberg “Princess Machine”
Female empowerment is at the core of Goldie Blox products, and their inventive commercials are an extension of that. The CEO, Debbie Sterling, is an engineer committed to “disrupting the pink aisle.” We love that this spot shows girls visibly dissatisfied and understimulated by princess culture, and then shows them actively engaged in building a more suitable alternative.
The Takeaways for Your Brand:
- Realness and specificity make marketing content come to life. Resist cliche to get to an universal emotion that all genders can identify with. You may want to create content that speaks directly to your women-identifying audience with regularity, but often the most radical marketing simply acknowledges the common experiences among the genders.
- A user-generated aesthetic is in. The resistance to traditional beauty norms and rejection of unrealistic imagery in advertising are actually great developments for the DIY marketer. People are ok with and even prefer marketing that looks and feels like their real lives, meaning your everyday images in your pocket are exactly what people are looking for.
- Brands can and should have values. You get to decide what those values are, but having pillars and guiding principles—regardless of what you’re selling—will help you drive business decisions and guide your marketing. It can also help you fill out a social media content calendar and inform partnerships with like-minded businesses and charities. Your brand values are also what allow you to more easily create an emotional connection with your audience and they give you greater freedom in the type of content you push out on social media. It’s much easier to create community around shared values rather than things.
- Imagery matters. Marketers and business owners can make steps toward gender-inclusive marketing by simply being intentional with the imagery they choose. If you show humans in your advertisements or on your social media pages, be mindful about how they’re represented, or not represented at all. Often people need and want to recognize themselves in ads—you can tap into under-served, but powerful, markets by showcasing them in your content. (Note this is most powerful if you just do it, and don’t draw attention to it.) Make sure you’re showing women and people of color every month out of the year and not just in February and March. Opt for the stock footage that doesn’t look like the typical stock imagery. (“women-laughing-with-salad” images are so tired, they’ve been memed.) We love Unsplash, Adobe Stock, Death to Stock, and Jukin Media for authentic, engaging content that you can overlay with your own text for ads and videos. Or go the extra mile to authenticity and use imagery you shoot yourself with your iPhone.
Put this marketing inspiration to work. Get started with a business video you can make with your phone, create a Facebook ad with Spark Post that features your real customers, or create long-form content that speaks to your brand’s values with Spark Page. Or simply tell us how your brand #shatterstereotypes!
Share you femvertisements with #AdobeSpark so we’re sure to see it!