You Go, Girl! How Pro-Feminism Advertising Is Changing the Game

Is pro-feminist marketing here to stay or merely a fad?

The advertising industry doesn’t exactly have a great track record with women. From fashion to cigarettes, brands have regressed the role of women in society for decades. However, in recent years, in parallel with society’s shifting attitudes towards gender and sex, it seems brands are adopting a different message.

It didn’t start with Nike’s “If You Let Me Play” or the Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, but as a Millennial woman working in the advertising world, these are the first pro-feminism ads that come to mind. However, in just the past year, we’ve seen a plethora of “you go, girl” content, including Under Armour’s Misty Copeland ad “I Will What I Want,” Verizon’s “Inspire Her Mind” in coordination with Makers, Pantene’s “Labels Against Women” and “Not Sorry,” and the strange yet bold ‘Life’s Not a Fairytale’ campaign from Mercy Academy.

Not to mention, the arms race that is the feminine hygiene category — between Always, HelloFlo, Bodyform, and Kotex, it’s hard to keep track!

What makes a pro-feminist ad?

There’s no right road to feminist marketing, although there are many important considerations brands must take into count before selecting the best route.

Product & Partnership

Goldieblox, a small business that creates innovative toys for girls, found success because of its product offering. Verizon, looking to be a leader in the technology space, made a brand-building partnership with Makers, encouraging young girls to get involved with STEM.

Creative Execution & Tone

For any brand, knowing your audience is key. However, with pro-feminist marketing, it’s important that brands carefully consider their depiction of women’s aspirations. For beauty brands like Pantene, focusing on women’s confidence and ambitions in the workplace is a natural fit.

However, it’s important to consider tone and representation when creating pro-feminist content. Brands, such as Airtel, have come under fire for poorly depicting women in so called pro-feminist advertising.

Should pro-feminist ads feature beautiful women, strong women, women “having it all?” Depending on the route chosen, feminist messaging can rub some audiences the wrong way.

However, overwhelmingly, pro-feminist marketing is well received. According to Ace Metrix, Always’ ‘Like a Girl’ received an Ace Score of 800 among women (the norm is 603).

Celebrity Endorsements

Celebrity endorsements come with their own level of risk. Selecting an endorser to be the face of feminism for your brand can be challenging, to say the least. While Misty Copeland was well-received in Under Armour’s recent ad, Danica Patrick’s ‘Bodybuilder’ commercial for GoDaddy had mixed results.

What does the rise of pro-feminist marketing mean for brands?

We’ve seen several categories adopt pro-feminist messaging over recent years, and it’s safe to say that it’s here to stay. And not just for fashion, beauty, and hygiene brands.

Recently under fire, due to the Ray Rice domestic violence controversy, the National Football League is in desperate need of a brand image overhaul. According to Nielsen demographic data, 46 percent of the Super Bowl viewing audience is female, and more women watch the game than the Oscars, Grammys and Emmys combined. If the NFL wants to win over nearly 50% of its core fan base, it needs to rethink its brand messaging and empower women, not only as fans of the game, but as leaders in the world.

This year, although prior to the Ray Rice controversy, the NFL has taken steps to improve its brand image among female fans – for example, through its partnership with Marie Claire magazine.

That being said, no amount of marketing will replace the product that is the league itself. If the NFL cannot learn to control its athletes (and if those who represent the league cannot manage crises in swift fashion), the brand will find itself in a damaged (and possibly irreparable) place.

However, at this time, the NFL has the power to turn itself around. Through its support of breast cancer awareness, the expansion if its female team apparel, and partnerships with publications like Marie Claire and Vogue, the League has taken the right steps to gain the respect and attention of female football fans.

Now, I’m not saying the NFL should “pink-wash” everything and call it a day, but by offering the products women want and creating partnerships women care about – and pairing those with the right message – the NFL has a chance not only to retain its female fans, but continue to develop its largest growing fan demographic. In all, there is light at the end of the tunnel for the NFL.


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