It all started when…
Late one night, I was watching TV. As I sat on my couch I started to notice ad after ad, all using the same uplifting message -- empowering women.
"You go girl" and so on.
I started to notice more campaigns from global brands like Dove, KPMG, Audi, State Street, Cisco, Covergirl, Barbie, McDonalds...
I did some research and found this trend had a name:
Femvertising. The use of feminism in advertising.
But, I had heard that some of these brands faced serious allegations of sexual discrimination, or penalizing women for maternity leave.
I'm familiar, too, with the challenges women face - serious barriers to equality like pay discrimination, unconscious bias, and more.
The skeptic and marketer in me asked... what is the impact of this femvertising on the women's rights movement?
Are we creating an illusion of progress? Isn't that... dangerous?
Below is a collection of my research and thoughts on the matter.
Femvertising or faux-feminism?
What is the impact on the fight for women's rights when advertisers use feminism in marketing campaigns, but fail to live up to the ideals? Is the exploitation of feminism in advertising dangerous?
Many companies using feminist messaging in their ads are poor examples of these ideals internally - for example, paying millions in lawsuits for pay inequality and discrimination against women, or by perpetuating unrealistic beauty standards.
This not only creates an illusion of progress, it cheapens the movement for equal rights. It's lip service. There is a real and present danger to decades of progress in the feminist movement if we accept this trend of faux-feminism without holding companies accountable.
Spectrum of femvertising
All of these campaigns fall somewhere on the following spectrum:
How do we, as consumers and marketers, measure up a femvertising campaign against this spectrum? By asking hard questions:
If mostly “no’s” – This company is paying lip service to feminism. This is “faux-feminism” and a gimmicky marketing campaign meant to cash in on the women’s rights movement by earning free press. If you’re evaluating your own firm against this checklist, and reach mostly “no,” it’s likely best to pursue another narrative in your campaign.
If mostly’s “yes’s” – Fist bumps all around. This is a champion of women’s rights, a company putting their money where their mouth is and creating real change in the world through their actions. They deserve to be celebrated for using femvertising to grow their brand equity and awareness.
Collection of articles:
- The New Rules of Using Feminism in Advertising, Chief Marketer Magazine, May 30, 2018
- How Should We React to Jane Walker? A Scorecard for Marketing to Women, LinkedIn, March 5, 2018
- The Marketing Trend We Should Leave Behind in 2018, LinkedIn, December 4, 2017
- Dove’s Ad Blunder Shows the Bar is Set Higher for Marketing to Women, LinkedIn, May 13, 2017
- The $12 Trillion Female Empowerment Narrative Opportunity - and its Exploits, LinkedIn, February 4, 2017
- The Illusion of Progress in Marketing to Women, LinkedIn, July 1, 2016 (where it all began.)
How you can help
And, if you're a brand marketer or an agency marketer responsible for advising your clients, I encourage you to consider the weight of your actions on the very real fight for women's equality, and the potential detriments to your clients for running hypocritical campaigns in an age of accountability, #metoo, and transparency.
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