Female empowerment sells products. We know that. Some years ago, Dove launched its Real Beauty Campaign, telling us we’re beautiful the way we are and it became one of the most talked-about successes in modern marketing. And, Pantene’s clever Whipit campaign focusing on the double-standards women can experience at work went viral.
Then from Always. Advertising to do with periods has come a long way from women in lycra being pulled along the seafront on roller skates by a pack of dogs – a tricky manoeuvre at the best of times, let alone when you’ve got menstrual cramps and a towel with wings stuffed down your knickers.
As part of a digital and social media campaign, a video was shot by Lauren Greenfield (who won the Sundance Film Festival’s Directing award for The Queen of Versailles) and it is, well, inspiring. It brought a lump to my throat, even though I know it’s exploiting my emotions in an attempt to flog me sanitary protection.
The video opens with adult men and women and a young boy being asked to act out what it means to throw, run and fight “like a girl”. Cue pathetic, flappy-handed attempts at the tasks. Greenfield then asks preteen girls to do the same. They sprint as fast as they can, punch hard and throw with all their might. The contrast clearly makes the point that girls lose confidence and self-esteem as they grow up, perhaps in part because they hear people berating others for behaving “like a girl”.
A redefinition of the expression is obviously long overdue. The campaign LikeAGirl aimed to make it “a phrase that represents the strength, talent, character and downright amazingness of every girl”. Viewers were invited to share pictures and videos of “amazing” girl moments via its Facebook page and Twitter feed. The response was phenomenal. The YouTube video was watched by more than 20m people.
But some companies do get it spectacularly wrong. Samsung’s Women of Steel competition was lambasted on Twitter for announcing it was looking for women whose “superhuman strengths make them inspirational role models” and promising the winner a new kitchen. Ouch! Talk about perpetuating the gender stereotype.
Some have also criticised the Always campaign, saying that brands are exploiting the fact that women want to see intelligent portrayals of themselves on screen. It’s sad that what lies behind these videos are the sale of sanitary pads or shampoo, they say, while there is still a woeful lack of strong female characters and female directors in feature films. Others say the commercial’s self-righteous tone is irritating because the worthy message has nothing to do with the product.
Yet does that matter? Surely anything which kickstarts the right conversation and shifts social norms is a good thing – even if it is a global brand using its platform to do so.