Brands join new wave of feminism

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.

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.

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