Are brands the new mansplainers?

Brandsplaining is a new book tackling how women are addressed and represented in marketing. We talk to the authors about the ‘femvertising’ trend and why brands mustn’t rest on their laurels

While the concept of mansplaining is by now well-trodden ground, a new book published by Penguin Business is exploring how, despite apparent progress, an incarnation of the phenomenon exists within brands.

Brandsplaining is authored by Philippa Roberts (previously client services director at DDB London and Ogilvy London) and Jane Cunningham (former head of planning at Ogilvy London and MD of Tribal DDB), who together founded Pretty Little Head, their own research consultancy specialising in female audiences.

The book is designed to be a “state of the nation study” after 15 years of researching these audiences, during which time brands have apparently discovered feminism and ‘femvertising’ has been on the rise. Brandsplaining is the result of thousands of hours of discussion groups, a survey among 14,000 women, and extensive marketing analysis, which revealed that sexism, while more covert, still exists, and that women are still frustrated with how they are both represented and addressed in marketing and advertising.

“In research we were doing across a variety of female audiences, we were hearing frustrations in how women were represented,” Cunningham tells us, “whether that was older women feeling like they were never shown or rarely shown in marketing, or mothers who felt that motherhood was idealised and didn’t represent the complicated, challenging job that it is, nor how valuable it is beyond … Mother’s Day campaigns to say thank you. And then younger women obviously feeling that they were always presented in a way that assumed they were only interested in their appearance, and that they were presented often through a male gaze lens.”