Women and advertising: we revise the brief!



As adulated as it is disparaged, advertising leaves no one indifferent. And for good reason: with an average daily exposure to 1,200 advertising messages, it is difficult to escape from it or to deny its role in shaping society.

Navigating the age-old and Manichean border between good and bad, advertising has recently found itself confronted with a new balancing act, torn between convenience and avant-garde. Because after having long been a reflection of society, mechanically reproducing its patterns, advertising now has the responsibility to break this toxic interdependent relationship that curbs all emancipation, whether ideological or societal. In a context where gender equality is the main cause of the five-year term, what place can advertising play and must play in the evolution towards a fairer representation of women, less biased and therefore less sexist?

How about we stop selling burgers with naked women?

Advertising sells. At the heart of its offer: the body of women. This is all the more true since the sector is considered to be male. A woman-object posture that can be seen as degrading, humiliating and creating a distortion of perspective: 82% of women feel that advertising creates complexes for them.

Public opinion believes that brands, which have the power to shape society, have a real social responsibility. To be heard and convince of the need to break free of gender stereotypes, a feminist guerrilla warfare is waged on the internet and in particular on social networks, which increasingly systematically denounce sexist speaking out. A paying strategy that implements more and more ethical criteria in consumption. According to the 2018 Earned Brand study, 65% of French consumers now consume brands based on their beliefs.

From the dynamics of toxic interdependence to lasting societal change?

Perceived and apprehended by brands, the exercise is no less complex and delicate, as the actors of advertising are trapped in a double mirror. The risk ? Falling into the trap of “femwashing”, the instrumentalization of feminist issues in an attempt to seduce consumers eager for commitment. It is not an exaggeration to speak of a trap, since without raising the ethical questions posed by such an approach, you should know that the public is not only more demanding than before, it is also more informed and now knows how to decipher and analyze the springs of communication, and the slightest hint of a false note can threaten the fragile balance of an engaged communication.

Femvertising, femwashing: a fragile balance.

Even the most superficial analysis of cases of a femwashing makes it possible to note it: there are gaps in the comprehension of the stakes at all the levels of creation. The good news is that we can learn from it!

To begin with, considering that there are “feminist subjects” or “women’s subjects” is already a first step towards the gender clichés. 50% of the French population being made up of women, and each woman being driven by different needs, desires and motivations, any communication can concern them. Therefore, there is not really a “feminist subject”. This is the mistake made in laundry, cleaning and baby products ads, since the vast majority of them are aimed at women, concluded Kantar’s AdReaction study.

Thinking and reasoning in this way is dangerous, since instead of destroying clichés, we risk reinforcing them, reversing them or even creating new ones.

By trying to emancipate the woman from her image of mother or housewife of the 1950s, the advertising industry transformed her in turn into a pin-up, an emancipated woman, and a versatile woman. In other words, advertising has never opened the cage in which women are locked up, it has simply changed the colors over the trends.

The solution ? Stop classifying, opposing, generating. In other words, it is high time to put stereotypes in the closet!

WANTED: stereotype.

If we want to avoid falling back into our old ways and relying on stereotypes, the best way to do it is to abolish them. It starts with a questioning of the historic codes of marketing. If their raison d’être and their effectiveness in the past is no longer to be proven, is it still relevant? Femininities, masculinities and beauties are plural. Identities are fluid. As a result, our mode of segmentation seems increasingly obsolete.

Successful exercise for Nike in the United States. After having hit the headlines by staging Colin Kaepernick in Dream Crazy, the brand goes even further with Dream Crazier. Since part of society insists on saying that ambitious and combative women are crazy, the brand, through a video narrated by Serena Williams and showing the great athletes of history, proposes to redefine this term and to make it synonymous with courage. According to a study by RealEyes on the two campaigns, Dream Crazier aroused a higher level of emotional engagement (8/10 against 7/10) and was even evaluated as being more popular (7/10 against 6 / 10) that Dream Crazy withe men!

It would also be interesting to get out of the sacrosanct triptych “gender / age / CSP” and consider new types of consumers, brought together by common passions, values ​​or behaviors. This is what IKEA achieved in 2017 with Place à  la vie. A video that had “nothing striking” except its aesthetics. And it is quite normal since it was content to show its consumers in all their diversity and without stereotypes. Their only common point? They all have a family life that the brand aims to improve with its products.

Likewise, reversing the order of the thinking process could allow you to place yourself creatively before declining the message according to an audience.

Mindsets: undergoing change.

Inclusion is also a story of mentalities, a story of conversation. In which we must all participate. And the men are cordially invited. That’s what Gillette did by changing her slogan. The latter went from "the best a man can get" to "the best men can be" to accompany a video denouncing toxic masculinity and celebrating men who act for equality. And despite its 1.4M of dislikes, the operation is a success: 23M of views, comments flow, the debate is launched and the brand is pleased to see its sales increase.

Equality: the new challenge for advertisers.

Advertising has taught us to eat organic, to always protect ourselves, to love electric scooters, to fasten our seat belts, to choose between drinking and driving, and to think before taking antibiotics. Its power is no longer to be proven. However, a great power implies great responsibilities. So if now, she taught us to respect each other, in our diversity and our differences?

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