Ahead of joining the panel at The Drum Network event ‘What Women Want: beyond feminism in advertising’ our Managing Director Debra shares her thoughts on the topic.

Femvertising: Even The Term Makes Me Cringe

The world of marketing can change the world surely? For we are about communications and at their best communications can influence, educate and change behaviours. The furore around what is currently known as ‘Femvertising’ would have us believe that advertising campaigns (advertising in its broadest sense) have helped empower and liberate women. That we all now know that it’s okay, we are all really beautiful, we can all be strong, we’re all powerful and capable of achieving anything.

We also all know that ‘Femvertising’ is all about selling us something. And we kind of graciously allow that- if it’s done right. Because let’s face it we consumers (that means all of us, men, women, children, gender neutral) have a 360 degree moral compass in operation on every brand we partake in. As well as every other brand on our radar. So, when brands enter into a new moral high ground they damn well have to earn it.

When Dove first launched their ‘Real Beauty’ campaign they did something very simple and very powerful. They showed us us. And they were so clever and right to do so. Marketing needs to become more inclusive. We’re never going to stop young people having complex and life threatening body issues if we keep parading skinny as the only version of beauty really allowed. But that goes for all genders, sexuality, races, religions, disabilities and cultures. We need to celebrate diversity. Because we are.

However as we move forwards marketing is under more stringent scrutiny. Yes, Dove did good back in the day. And we all wiped a tear at the Women describing Women iteration. And it’s so hard to criticise Dove because they opened the debate, paved the way for a less rigid classification of beauty. But this is dangerous territory that is incredibly tough to navigate. Dove got it so wrong when they launched their #ChooseBeautiful campaign. Suddenly we were back to labels. Suddenly we could only choose between the beautiful or average doors. There was little else to us. In one ill-considered execution the brand got it hugely wrong.

Back to our moral compass. We know stuff out here. We research stuff. We want to believe in the brands that share our lives. It doesn’t take too long to discover that Dove is owned by Unilever. Unilever are also owners of Lynx: remember (ladies) the legendary Lynx effect? Those ads with ’those’ impossibly stereotyped women were running at exactly the same time as we were being empowered to recognise our own beauty. Still, that’s all stopped now…but you can still find Dove Skin Whitening Deodorant for sale here and all around the world? Not shown on the Unilever website at all by the way but very visible with a simple search. Seriously? Accept you are beautiful but only if you go a few shades more Caucasian?

For me it all comes back to integrity and brand truth. Do not go out being all insightful and recognising a female insecurity and then back-fitting a brand into it. It’s untenable and as consumers get more up close and personal with brands it is quickly pulled apart and your brand is left, well, in the “If Only Everything In Life Was As Reliable As A Volkswagen” territory.

Today the best campaigns are still those that have a brand truth at the heart of them, those who enter this arena with the very best intentions to be responsible with their marketing. Not those that assume that 51% of the world’s population are sitting around waiting for a brand to empower them.

You can read the views of other panellists and find out more about the event here.

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