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Brands join new wave of feminism


Posted by Eliza Williams, 1 July 2014, 12:30    Permalink    Comments (7)

A flurry of recent ads from the US have seen major brands co-opting feminist messages in their advertising, suggesting that the wave of 'new feminism' that has been growing in recent years has gone mainstream.

Brands that have been expressing feminist sentiments in their ads range from those intrinisically related to women such as Always, to those less obviously gendered, such as Verizon. In almost all instances, the films have been explicit in their messages and have gained large audiences online. In Always's Like A Girl film, which was released on YouTube last week and has already received over 13 million views, the brand tackles the negative associations of the phrase 'like a girl', while attempting to encourage self-confidence in young women. The film is shown below:

In Verizon's ad, which appeared at the beginning of June online, the technology brand addresses the fact that interest in science from girls tails off as they grow up, and proposes why this might be:

Verizon's film follows the success of toy company GoldieBlox, which has created a range of products aimed to counteract the 'princess' element that so dominates toys aimed at girls. The brand has enjoyed success online with a series of witty films such as this one, where a group of girls make a Rube Goldberg machine out of their toys...

...or this ad, which played during the Super Bowl earlier this year, where girls are shown making a bonfire of their pink, princess-y toys.

Dove has of course been at the 'supporting women' thing for a few years now, releasing a series of ads that aim to encourage women to tackle insecurity about their looks, and have more confidence in their inner beauty. But Dove's messages seem low-key compared to a recent ad from Pantene, which questions why women keep apologising, and suggests instead (cue soaring music) that they 'be strong and shine'.

So what does all this say about feminism today? Well, reassuringly, it implies that the recent feminism movement (which has been led by a number of commentators, including Caitlin Moran and Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism project in the UK) has entered the mainstream, with brands recognising the value of being part of it. Other evidence for this comes from Getty's Lean In project, which offers a new range of stock photography images of women, deliberately intended to break stereotypes. As brands are driven ultimately by the market, rather than alturistic ideas of bettering women's position in society, the fact that they are adopting these messages implies that they feel that being seen to be feminist is now a 'good thing' (and will ultimately lead to sales).

These films also suggest an increasing savvy from brands and ad agencies about what people will share online. While most people are largely reluctant to share ads on social media, unless they are particularly funny or innnovative, attach a political message to your product – particularly one that you are fairly certain will be well received – and you are in with a chance of going viral.


Isn't it sexist to try to try and steer women away from feminine things they may naturally be attracted to? If women like "pink," which many do, why are there so many who would force them into a gray, masculine mold where women are more like men? It seems that's what many feminists are trying to do. They are buying into a lie that masculine is superior to feminine. Why not celebrate the differences? I'm long done with the tailored suits and ties we wore in the '80s to try and prove our worth in the workplace. Let's not go backward.
2014-07-01 13:23:25

I always find any brand of -ism that looks to champion just one group in order to promote equality strange. Equality should be achieved by celebrating the whole (human race) rather than trying to raise just one part of it, no matter how suppressed that part may previously have been. Make make the -ism a non-issue and both positive and negative forms of it disappear.

But if this kind of design/marketing is a stepping-stone towards that, and earning the people involved some money along the way, then happy days. So long as there's no bandwagon for brands that don't really care, but want a piece of the action.

Also, I imagine the boardrooms at Yorkie are sh*tting themselves about now
2014-07-01 13:37:51

Think you've quite misinterpreted the ideas, Susan.
It's not to force girls to stop liking pink and be like boys, that's overly simplistic.
Pink used to be the masculine colour, you know.
Also note the pink blocks in goldie blox (amongst, gosh, other colours! Those terrible feminists)
It's about boxing girls into one ideal that is very hard to get out of and can often squash imagination.

Another of my gripes is how utterly boring it is. There's a world of things to be, other than sparkly princesses and cupcake makers. Yawn.

Nowadays, we don't want to have to 'prove our worth' in the workplace, as if we have none. I'm just as worthy as any other. And my favourite colour is pink.
2014-07-01 14:11:51

So new feminism is making inroads into the mainstream. Great.

That Always ad, however…

When leveraging real issues in order to make us love you: try a little harder, please. A wobbly camera watching (what feels like) actors deliver (what sounds like) scripted soundbites? That thing has landed on the wrong end of the authenticity meter. It reeks of deception, with a hint of abuse – which is, in the context of its purported message, highly annoying.

Ideally, campaigns such as these should inspire us to question ourselves. All the inspiration I was able to extract from the Always ad is the notion of some men in in some boardroom, making the research-based strategic decision that the time has come for their company to side with, ahem, feminism.
2014-07-02 14:16:34

The Always ad would have been better in structure and stronger on message had the girls simply been asked to run, throw and fight without the "like a girl" qualifier. Most girls are aware what kind of performance is expected of them from that instruction (the same given by the adults and boy). Them acting naturally instead sends up the scripted red flags.
2014-07-02 15:30:42

'I always find any brand of -ism that looks to champion just one group in order to promote equality strange. Equality should be achieved by celebrating the whole (human race) rather than trying to raise just one part of it, no matter how suppressed that part may previously have been. Make make the -ism a non-issue and both positive and negative forms of it disappear.'

Pretending an issue doesn't exist does not stop it existing Steve. There ARE real and discernible differences in the ways in which women and men (thus designated) are treated in all spheres of life (not to mention differences in treatment according to race, sexual identity and orientation, etc.), and pretending they're aren't isn't going to create progress.

These adverts, despite their inherent profit-driven motivation, are at least making an attempt to move beyond the dated and derogatory stereotypes of both women and feminists, and this will hopefully contribute in some way towards creating a space for real social and political change (opening up that discussion so effectively shut down, particularly among young people, by the 'uncool' - read: hairy, hippie, lesbian - associations of feminism). If even one young person is moved by one of these ads to reconsider their own treatment and/or treatment of others, then that's a good thing, surely? Whatever our scepticism re. how convincing the ads are...
2014-07-02 22:27:44

I'm torn. I think the motives are pretty cynical and brands that spend millions trying to convince women they're not good enough without product A are now draping themselves in new feminism just to get women to share stuff on their timeline. BUT, they're positive messages and if my timeline's anything to go by, a lot of people find them uplifting. So, I think it's good, even if I find the motives distasteful.
2014-07-03 12:31:01

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