Wednesday, July 08, 2015
by Denfield

Picture perfect?

The portrayal of women in advertising

How women are portrayed, not just in advertising, but in the media as a whole, is a somewhat controversial topic. Arguably, advertising has come a long way over the years, but in a day and age where the definition of ‘feminism’ is incredibly fluid, the topic seems as contentious as ever.

So, here is a question for you: what do you think of when I say ‘female advertising’?

Here is what I think of:

  • Female sanitary products being advertised using alien blue liquids
  • Women cured from feeling bloated by the wonder of natural yogurts filled with ‘good bacteria’
  • Products that are useful for ‘mum’ – such as washing powder, quick meals, vacs, etc
  • Incredibly beautiful young women advertising anti-ageing products

Here is my next question: what do you think of when I say ‘male advertising’?

  • Half-naked Playboy bunnies running in slow motion towards a man who has just sprayed a deodorant or aftershave onto himself
  • Razors that help you get the girl (because whenever you use them a very attractive woman will inevitably come and stroke your face / want to kiss you, because now she doesn’t have any nasty stubble to contend with)
  • Groups of male friends standing around drinking beer in pubs
  • Dying your grey hair helps you to get a new girlfriend

Of course, this is just what I think of – perhaps you think of something else? Whatever the products a brand is actually supposed to be advertising in such a way they appear to have a somewhat sinister underlying message that men only care about buying products which will make them more attractive to women, or make women more attractive to them, and that women only care about buying products which enhance their appearance (she’s reached 25 – panic!), or products which will help her better care for her family. Is this really representative of the men and women of 2015? Are men honestly all libido-driven simpletons, or do they actually possess more than enough emotional intelligence to think above the waist once in a while. Are all women totally insecure in their appearance with a sole concern about whether or not they’re feeling bloated today, or are they capable of being occupied with less superficial matters?

It’s difficult for advertisers to step away from such embedded stereotypes. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? But I believe it really is broke(n). Stereotypes are there for a reason, because they’re based on what is (or was) a truth. Yes, women are generally more insecure in their looks than men; yes, men are generally more driven by their libido than women, however, this is a rapidly outdated stereotype, and shows – quite frankly – a lack of imagination in an industry revered for its ability to generate the next big idea.

Emma Watson (a role model for plenty of younger and older girls alike) recently highlighted with the #HeForShe UN speech that negative gender stereotypes don’t just affect women and that equality is an issue which impacts and affects everyone.

Watch Emma Watson's UN speech here.

Of course, many brands make a very good livelihood from cashing in on people’s insecurities, and with big bucks to be made, unfortunately that won’t be going away. However, some smart brands have embraced a new type of advertising. With their #LikeAGirl campaign, Always have recently demonstrated how effectively playing against gender stereotypes can resonate with consumers. With the slogan ‘let’s make #LikeAGirl mean amazing things’, the campaign aimed to turn the belittling phrase of throwing/catching/running ‘like a girl’ into something positive and feminist.

Watch the #LikeAGirl advert here

#LikeAGirl has reached nearly 60 million YouTube views, proving that strong positive brand messaging can more valuable than the advertising of the products themselves.

Before you accuse me of having a serious sense of humour bypass and argue that advertising is a business, not a hippy-dippy playground, the fact is that the brands embracing change are the ones reaping the best results.

So, how do we continue this good work, break down more barriers and continue to empower women? By creating compelling ad campaigns which utilise pro-female talent, messages and imagery.

Right on, sisters!