Femvertising – friend or faux?

April 2022

It’s only been 5 years since Audi compared buying a vehicle to finding a wife and Protein World pushed women to get ‘beach body ready’– whatever that means. This influx of similar messaging within advertising over time is what has us on high alert. 

Nowadays, when we see brands paying tribute to the feminist movement through flashy ad campaigns we think 3 things – either they’re truly passionate about change, they now understand that doing right for the world means doing right for their business or they just like hopping on trends. As the advertising industry still grapples with the same issues it always has, our curious (and 63% female-identifying, by the way) brains couldn’t help but wonder how many brands still had some of their own cleaning up to do before launching femvertising ads and campaigns “just for show”. 

Break the bias or fake the bias

On a humble quest we found some of those who, frankly, nail it – pushing advertising in a future-forward direction for gender equality, and others who sadly put on their purple clown masks for the month of March and the month of March only. We’re not ones to name and shame, but we are ones to analyse ads to our heart’s content. 

Brands who genuinely hit the mark are those who invest in femvertising campaigns year round, putting their money and creative energy into encouraging us all to foster a gender-equal world. We’ve rounded up some campaign examples that gave us goosebumps (the good kind) to share, as well as some brands who gave it their all in March’s recent #BreaktheBias call to action. 

Lego plays with breaking down stereotypes

Lego’s a longstanding champion of imaginative branding and products. Over time, they’ve built a sturdy platform upon which they encourage young girls to pursue any career they desire, particularly in industries that are still male-oriented.

Last year they launched their empowering Ready for Girls campaign which called upon society to get the world ready for girls, rather than girls ready for the world. This year they also celebrated the powerful contribution made by women in design within their LEGO Designer Stories series. 

There’s bite to their bark too, and they’re committed to hiring more women as product designers, as well as partnering with organisations who support the next generation of women in design. 

Hershey’s cooks up something simple

Hershey’s have had some bumps in their brand along the road, but have recently participated in initiatives to create a more inclusive workplace and equal opportunities for all genders.

They aimed to highlight the central role women play in our lives by colouring the "SHE" within their chocolate bar packaging. We can’t help but feel that this cute, colourful reminder to celebrate women doesn’t quite pack the punch their brand needs. We would have liked to see something more strategic, useful and with a stronger message.

Dove dive into diversity

Dove have made themselves known for showcasing all kinds of bodies and ethnicities in their communications.

This year the brand launched its #StopTheBeautyTest movement to break the bias not just on International Women’s Day, but every day, asking women to share their stories and celebrate beauty in all shapes, colours and sizes. 

We like that they have real, actionable KPIs – the #DoveSelfEsteemProject​ is committed to empowering 8 million young people by 2024 by providing a host of evidence-based resources on self-esteem. It also pushes for reversing the damage of retouching apps with the #NoDigitalDistortion pledge​.

The way they market to women isn’t without its flaws, but the brand does keep their promise to deliver body confidence and self-esteem education around the world ever since it launched their Real Beauty campaign back in 2004.

The reality of our world

The world we live in means brands probably wouldn’t care as much about female empowerment if it didn’t improve their brand positioning. Did we just hear someone say “not all brands” from the back of the crowd?

Brands know that ads that shine women in a progressive light substantially outperform those that don’t. Unilever (who own Dove) found progressive femvertising campaigns creates 37% more brand impact and a 28% increase in purchase intent. Kantar found out that gender-balanced brands in the UK are worth, on average, £1 billion more than male-skewed brands. Women want to see themselves portrayed accurately in advertising, and they’re directing their spending accordingly.

It's the earnest ones like that Always ad which, 7 years later, we still find ourselves welling up over. As with all the well-intended advertising floating around, we really want to believe that it came from a place of passion for real improvement and not just a hunger for money and market positioning.

Put the money where the movement is

With women controlling $31.8 trillion worldwide in spending, but only 29% believing advertising represents women accurately, today’s advertising needs to catch up. Brands live in fear these days to get it right. The good kind of fear that makes us humans really try to be better. 

In a metrics-obsessed industry like advertising, one way brands can make real moves towards living their values is by joining the SeeHer movement. As “business people on a business mission to make a better world”, SeeHer is an unprecedented coalition of marketers, agencies, and media companies out to harness the collective power of the entire marketing and media ecosystem.

One way they do that is through the initiative’s GEM®, the first data-driven methodology for identifying gender bias in media. It’s now the global measurement standard and has quantified gender bias in over 180,000 ads. The results are huge for brands – ads with positive GEM® scores drive purchase intent by 42% among total and female consumers, while positive ROI tied to high GEM® scores increase sales by 2 to 5x. Using metrics like these offers a way for brands to successfully navigate the marketing minefield.

It’s not, nor will it ever be, enough to launch a powerful campaign or craft a spectacular femvertising campaign (even if it makes us cry). For issues such as gender equality it is undeniable – brands can only escape criticism and gain credibility by engaging in actual change. A wonderful illustration of what brands can no longer get away with was brought to us courtesy of the wicked Gender Pay Gap Bot, which went viral on International Women’s Day – exposing the gap between what companies were celebrating in their tweets and their actual pay practices.

We’ll shout it from the rooftops. Brands need to walk the walk, not just talk the talk.

Illustration: Carmen Reina