By Anjali Gupta, Conceptor & Co-Lead of TMA’s Diversity & Inclusion Initiative
This Women’s History Month, we saw more and more ads filled with feel-good female empowerment messaging. This wave of work reinforces that the trend of femvertising (defined by SheKnows Media as “advertising that employs pro-female talent, messages and imagery to empower women and girls”) isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
The rise of femvertising corresponds with a larger, more complex relationship between pop culture and the broader feminist movement. Over the past few years, feminism has become a part of day-to-day cultural conversation through internet memes, celebrity soundbites, t-shirts, social media feeds, TV shows, films, and music. And it wasn’t long before marketers spotted this trend and began creating ads that were hailed as feminist, too.
The reality however is that feminism is more than a hashtag – it is the belief that all genders should have equal political, economic, and social rights and opportunities. And if brands aren’t aware of the nuances of the femvertising landscape, it’s easy for their female-focused efforts to be perceived as shallow at best – or outright insensitive and harmful at worst.
So if you see “we want to empower women” show up on your next client brief, here are 10 key things to keep in mind to create work that can help #PressForProgress:
1) Remember that women are 52% of the population. If a brief doesn’t explicitly mention women as part of the target, our default assumption tends to skew towards a male audience. But challenge that assumption. Think through an audience (and potential customer base) you may be missing because they aren’t represented on the page.
2) There should be nothing “seasonal” about marketing to women. If a brand truly wants to matter to women, they shouldn’t only be talking to women during Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day or even Women’s History Month. Consider this a friendly reminder that women exist during other times of the year, too.
3) A company’s internal culture is a part of their brand. If a brand says they’re committed to empowering women, consumers expect this commitment to go beyond lip service and translate into tangible action. It’s not enough to just talk the talk, and transparency goes a long way when it comes to corporate policies. If your brand wants to stand for gender equality, make sure you’re aware if they are actually walking the walk (or are prepared to take those steps) as a company.
4) Celebrate women as creators, inventors, pioneers and leaders – not just as consumers. How can investing in women and the projects they want to create help drive your bottom line? How can you co-create things together? How can your brand support opportunities for female innovation?
5) Think through portrayals of men, too. How many times have we seen the dynamic of “the clueless husband” and “the nagging wife” play out in our media? Stereotypes like those are toxic to everyone. Challenge gender norms – traditional ideas of what is considered “masculine” or “feminine” – to create work that resonates on a human level.
6) Be aware of intersectionality. If you’ve seen this term and aren’t sure what it means, you’re not alone. It’s been a part of feminist academic discourse, but has only recently been discussed more by the media and general public. Intersectionality refers to the overlapping influence of social categories including race, class, and gender that have an impact on our lives and experiences. The idea is that we tend to talk about just one of these factors – just race or just class or just gender – without acknowledging that they’re interconnected.
Sounds complex, but the point here is that as marketers, it’s vital to do the work of uncovering real insights to help us understand, empathize, and speak to individual experience without relying on outdated assumptions about what “all women” want.
7) Humor can go a long way. Yes, fighting for gender equality is a serious subject. But so many femvertising campaigns choose to go for the heartstrings rather than humor that they’re starting to blur together in a weepy, emotional soup. If it’s tonally right for your brand or the situation, don’t be afraid to find the funny.
8) Think beyond just replacing a man with a woman. Some of the world’s most iconic brands have a male face. Some brands have noticed this and have chosen to gender-swap their spokesperson during March as a grand gesture to celebrate Women’s History Month. But what does this actually accomplish? It’s not progress if it’s only temporary. Instead, consider the possibility of creating new, original female icons that can exist on their own terms — not just as a month-long replacement for a male figure.
9) Don’t try to co-opt political movements. Yes, you see #MeToo and #TimesUp as hashtags on your social media feed. But that does not mean that it’s right for your brand to try and dive into this conversation, too. Be aware of the context of political movements and know when it’s better for your brand to stay out of the conversation.
10) Ask good questions. To create work that is relevant, authentic, and meaningful, we have to be willing to challenge ourselves and our clients by asking good questions. So if your brand truly wants to empower women, take a step back, reflect, and ask yourself: Are we being authentic, or are we just trying to tap into a trend? How can we challenge and transcend gender stereotypes? What is our company actually committed to doing to advance gender equality? How can we elevate our work to help push this conversation forward?
Femvertising will continue to evolve over the coming year. As cultural conversation progresses, it’s important for us not only to remain aware of the “what” but to understand the “why,” so that we know how to create work that can make a real difference.
For more discussion on this topic, watch the full presentation of The F Word: Femvertising and the Future of Feminism.