WHAT IF ADVERTISING WAS WOMEN’S STRONGEST ALLY?

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March 8th was International Women’s Day. Some don’t adhere to the very existence of the day, others believe it should be women’s day every day. In my case, I think that the topic deserves at least that we evaluate the progress and regressions on the issue, once a year, in all areas, and stop to take a look in our own backyard.

In an article entitled “Why the Perfect Woman Won’t Win” published in French online magazine Auféminin.com, I was asked to comment on a survey of 1300 women on the topic of the “cliché of the perfect woman.” In this article written by Ludivine Le Goff, I explain how, in my point of view, Twitter now acts as a “guard,” filling in the role previously played by women’s associations and feminist watch groups that denounce women’s representation in the media, and especially in advertising. Victoria’s Secret faced this very phenomenon and the consequences this past November right after the release of its campaign “The Perfect Body.” Due to an uproar on Twitter and other social networks criticizing the campaign, the brand decided to change the catchline to “A Body For Every Body,” in the spirit of Dove’s approach in its Campaign for Real Beauty launched over 10 years ago. History has shown that Dove’s campaign marked a turning point in the representation of women in advertising.

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In one of my comments, I insist on the phenomenon some are calling “fem-vertising,” which has been gaining in momentum with the considerable success of campaigns such as Dove’s Real Beauty Sketches, but even more recently with Always and its brand new film “Stronger together” (below), a follow-up to « Like a girl », which revealed an extremely pertinent insight that has (hopefully) imprinted on all of our minds.

So two of the most communicating brands in the world (Unilever, owner of Dove, and Procter & Gamble, owner of Always) are strongly setting the example for the rest of the market: “Female empowerment sells.” A number of other brands have decided in 2014 to follow this path, from Pantene with its campaign “Not Sorry,” inciting women to not apologize more than men, Verizon with its campaign “Inspire Her Mind” to encourage women to choose scientific career paths, or Under Armour and its beautiful campaign “I will what I want”, to cite only a few. (See videos below.)

But one of the newest initiatives is, I believe, one of the most powerful. GETTY Images, in partnership with the LeanIn Foundation by Sheryl Sandberg (video above), decided to create a collection of images destined to accelerate change in the representation of women in advertising and media. This image library counts over 2 500 images illustrating women leadership in both private and professional contemporary life. Part of the profits of the Lean In Collection goes to the creation of Getty Images grants to produce new photos illustrating women’s emancipation. Because “YOU CAN’T BE WHAT YOU CAN’T SEE.”

It is important of course to put in perspective the effectiveness of these efforts. The real power of influence of advertising on our mental representations of the world around us, is much weaker than we believe it to be. Advertising is only a small portion of the mass media, and the representation of women in the news or in magazines will always be a hundred times more influential than what we see in a TV commercial or a newspaper ad. Not to mention that advertising has neither the vocation nor the capacity to be a realistic mirror of society, and it would be pointless to expect of advertising that it incarnates alone the sociological changes that we want to see happen. But since it is a micro-motor in this domain, it should indeed play a progressive role and contribute modestly to rendering the all too annual ‘International Women’s Day’ obsolete!

 

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