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#InternationalWomensDay: Smart Brands Are Challenging The Perception Of Women in Advertising

In celebration of International Women’s Day, Louise Tullin, Marketing and Communications Director EMEA at video ad tech Unruly, looks at the way brands are changing the way they advertise to women.

‘This Girl Can’. ‘Inspire Her Mind’. ‘I Will What I Want’.  These are the titles of ad campaigns, supporting products as varied as sporting goods and telecommunications. But what connects these promotions is that they represent a sea change in the role of women in the world of advertising. Advertising is slowly but steadily changing its treatment of gender roles, and the smartest brands are leading the charge.

Of course, advertising and feminism have not always been the best of bedfellows. If the way we market products is a reflection of our society, then it doesn’t take a sociologist to note that sexist, demeaning advertising campaigns are deniably a part of the industry’s history.

But times change, and so too does the creative that reflects it. Part of this is clearly due to the web and social media. Sites like ‘Everyday Feminism’, social campaigns like ‘#YesAllWomen’ and public debates concerning reproductive rights, street harassment and the wage gap have made acknowledgement of these concerns a priority. We have certainly come some way from the casual sexism on display in the campaigns of 1960’s-set ‘Mad Men’, but modern brands are finding new ways to challenge the typical perception of women in advertising.

So can advertising be a force for good in feminism? Some brands certainly think so. Dove’s reframing of itself as a brand celebrating ‘real beauty’ was an incredibly prescient move. One of the spots which helped launch this new direction, 2013’s ‘Real Beauty Sketches’, was the most shared video ads of that year and remains a touchstone for emotionally-engaging, high-concept creative. With its Real Beauty campaign, launched back in 2004, Dove touched a nerve that mainstream advertising had been ignoring.

Since Dove’s new direction shook the social web, this new breed of advertising has continued to flourish. Just this week, a new spot from Under Armour, a brand operating in a sector usually dominated by campaigns devoted to musclebound men, took the inspired step of featuring the USA Women’s Gymnastic team. The spot, part of the larger ‘Rule Yourself’ campaign, has performed extremely well, reaching over 60,000 shares in the week since release. It’s fast-edit, inspirational aesthetic is the latest in the female-centric sports trend, including Sports England’s ‘This Girl Can’ and Nike’s charming ‘Inner Thoughts’.


Brands are looking to drive change for younger women. With young girls subjected to the pressures posed by advertising as much as, if not more, than anyone else, ads like Always’ ‘#LikeAGirl’ set out to challenge these expectations head on. Featuring young women addressing their experience of gender expectations in honest testimonials, this campaign’s tremendous success (the brand re-released it as a Super Bowl campaign) set a trend for similarly positive messages for young girls.

With ‘Girls Do Science’, Microsoft addressed the imbalance of young girls studying STEM subjects, while in 2016 the iconic Barbie doll has been reimagined as a force for gender-neutral imagination and possibility.

As with any social movement, there is always more progress to be made. Advertising has likely not seen the last of its gaffes, but with consumers sharing views through social media, it’s becoming more of a conversation.

It’s undeniable that brands are being rewarded with heaps of online attention for these messages, and that can only be a good thing.