In the past few years, we’ve seen messages empowering women permeate the advertising landscape. From ads featuring girls playing sports to spots showcasing women dominating the workplace, brands are aiming to shatter gender stereotypes as they recognize the powerful platform they have to take a stand on social and political issues.
Promoting messages of empowerment and increasing diversity on screen are vital for combatting misconceptions and outdated standards perpetuated by the media. These efforts work to reflect a more accurate portrayal of the world we live in and strive for an even better one. Despite their far-reaching impact, these messages are not enough.
Brands and ad agencies must work hand in hand to deliver ads that empower women and marginalized communities beyond what is said on screen or on a billboard. They must “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk”—they must support women in a way that aligns with the message of empowerment they’re spreading. In addition to showing support in the advertisement, companies should do so beyond the advertisement, creating solutions to challenges women face beyond just the content being displayed in front of viewers’ eyes.
Beyond the Advertisement
Brands and creative agencies should embody their message by truly contributing to the solution. This means supporting women behind the scenes, which consists of prioritizing off-screen representation, not just on-screen representation. The diverse voices and rich experiences of the women being portrayed in an ad should be an integral part of the strategic and creative processes that go into producing an advertisement. There are several organizations whose mission is to eliminate harmful gender-based stereotypes and increase the amount of talented women in senior and creative roles. Some of these initiatives include the Unstereotype Alliance, The 3% Movement, Free the Work, and Where Are the Boss Ladies?.
Empowering women beyond the advertisement also means effecting change not only through brands’ messaging, but also through their actions, products, and business models. Below are some brands that are getting it right.
Dove: Project #ShowUS – Shattering Beauty Stereotypes (2019 Winner - Cannes Silver Glass: The Lion for Change)
Dove, in partnership with Girlgaze, Getty Images, and women everywhere, aims to shatter beauty stereotypes not only through an advertisement showcasing women of all forms, but also through the creation of Project #ShowUs—the world’s largest photo library of women and non-binary individuals available to all media and advertisers. In doing so, Dove is contributing to fostering a more inclusive vision of beauty in advertising.
Gazeta.pl: The Last Ever Issue (2019 Winner - Cannes Glass Grand Prix: Lion for Change)
Gazeta.pl, in partnership with VMLY&R, BNP Paribas, and Mastercard, bought Poland’s oldest and most popular porn magazine, Twój Weekend, to close it down. As the last issue, Gazeta.pl created a special “women’s issue” featuring topics such as gender portrayal, sexual education, sexism, and equal rights. In shutting down Twój Weekend, a magazine that contributes to a culture that objectifies and marginalizes women, and in using its platform to change the conversation, Gazeta.pl spread a powerful message while also providing a solution.
The Female Company: The Tampon Book (2019 Winner - Cannes PR Grand Prix)
The Female Company, an organic tampon brand working with Scholz & Friends, brought awareness about the tampon tax in Germany. It created a book about menstruation that also doubled as packaging for its tampons. Because books are taxed at a much lower rate than tampons in Germany, The Female Company essentially lowered the tampon tax, offering women a cheaper alternative and prompting official debate within German politics.
Volvo Cars: E.V.A. Initiative – Equal Vehicles for All (2019 Winner - Cannes Creative Strategy Grand Prix)
In a campaign by Forsman & Bodenfors called the E.V.A. Initiative (Equal Vehicles for All), Volvo highlighted gender inequality in cars and the higher risk women face of getting injured in car crashes than men. Volvo took it a step further by not only incorporating safer car features for women in its own products, but by also sharing its research with the rest of the car industry to make cars safer for everyone.
Secret Deodorant: Equal Pay – Do Better & Donation to the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team
As part of its #AllStrengthNoSweat campaign, Secret Deodorant, a sponsor of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team (USWNT), created an ad called Equal Pay – Do Better. The ad calls for equal pay for the USWNT and women everywhere. Not only did Secret promote the cause in its ad, it also donated $529,000 to the USWNT to symbolically close the pay gap and show its support to the team’s fight for equal pay.
Ad Council: She Can STEM
Ad Council, along with McCann NY, created a campaign called She Can STEM. It aims to inspire middle school girls to stay in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) by highlighting female role models across various STEM fields. Ad Council does this through its public service communications, as well as the She Can STEM website, which enables girls to explore the different STEM fields and opportunities available to them. Since the launch of the campaign, the percentage of girls who know what “STEM” stands for has steadily grown from 71% (in September 2018) to 77% (in June 2019). Furthermore, the percentage who have done a STEM activity in the past 12 months–not related to school work–has increased significantly, from 66% (in September 2018) to 75% (in June 2019).
These ad campaigns are examples of brands boldly taking a stand to address issues facing women today. Their creativity, innovation and commitment to the cause are highlighted in their work and are equally important in shaping the conversation happening behind the scenes as well as beyond the ad itself.