BrandEquity: If she's crying, she's buying: Are brands manipulating female consumers?

Brand Equity did an excellent digging on the topic of Femvertising in: If she's crying, she's buying: Are brands manipulating female consumers?, interviewing plenty of ad professionals, moi included. I'm not very keen on femvertising. There'a a great video from John St where they pretend they've opened Jane st that mocks our businesses current fawning over femvertising.

But! There's good femvertising too, for example Viva N Diva "Beauty Lies Within Us" mentioned in the article.

Spotting Good Femvertising

The simplest way to differentiate genuine femvertising ad from a manipulative cash/attention-grab is to find if the communication has actually enabled empowerment in some way. Recently, Viva N Diva, a Surat-based textile manufacturer, hired acid attack survivor Lakshmi as brand ambassador for its new Kurti collection. Initially, the company wanted to do charity for the cause of acid attack victims. Then the owners realised giving them employment will bring a much-needed transformation in their lives.

"People in Surat have a thing for following trends. So, we thought of making a trend out of employing these survivors. We're quite hopeful that people in and outside the city will take note of these ads and hire more such people. It will give them an opportunity to step out of their homes, make them confident about leading their lives," says Manan Shah, managing director of Viva N Diva.

This is the full Q&A between me and the author of the piece, Shepali Bhatt.

Brand Equity: 1. Do you think brands are using femvertising (taking the women empowerment route for their ads) just to exploit female consumer's insecurities, only with a nicer looking package?
All that advertising is doing here is riding another cause de jour, gaining "free" PR by tailoring their message to fit in the most recent "good" trend, be it gay marriage, empowering women, or encouraging little girls to play with dolls that wear glasses, so they'll be destined for STEM jobs. So yes, it's a very simple way of exploiting a hot topic today to get the consumers attention via lots of press, and it's only driven by a sincere want to move more product. If it's not a PSA, it's just selling you something. It's like a car salesman who first compliments your style, then pointing to the used car that would suit you.

Brand Equity: 2. What's the thin line of demarcation between empowering and manipulating your consumer? Could you illustrate both with an example (or two) each?

Advertising doesn't really empower anyone, there's a thin line between expressing the zeitgeist of right now and manipulating the consumer in every ad.
Now, when P&G was a proud sponsor of moms ( "Pick them Back Up" 2014 and "Proud sponsor of moms" 2010) they actually flew mothers to the Olympics to watch their children compete. Now, we may not all be raising olympians here, but the fact that a bunch of household products showed appreciation for the daily chores adding up, and the unlimited potential a mother sees in her children as something to celebrate was quite nice and not too far away from the products. We have to wash those soccer uniforms over and over again. By transporting the mothers to the Olympics, they really did stand by their message "proud sponsor of moms". Had they not done that it would have been exploitative.

I feel that Goldieblox "Fast-Forward Girls" from last year was manipulative in many ways -I'm sorry I can't show you the ad but they failed to secure the rights (again!) to the music so Sony has had it removed on copyright grounds. The ad featured adorable youtube girl celebrities, some as young as 5, dressed up as famous women such as Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Hillary Clinton, Misty Copeland and Abby Wambach dancing around with sign hashtags "ILookLikeaWorldChampion or #ILookLikeAJustice. Goldieblox sells games & dolls, of course any little girls imagination is limitless, the insight is not new. Their execution felt very calculated to sail on the cute girls appearing in the video on their channels, and the consumers to spread the message via sign-hashtags. We've very much over signs with hashtags on them, please stop it.
Compare that to Barbie who had the same message, but simply made this ad to show it - little girls in the actual roles of veterinarian, professor, coach and so on: ("Imagine the Possibilities") That is so much better, and recognises that kids play is roleplaying and limitless.

Brand Equity: 3. How can a brand ensure the communication demonstrates empowerment without coming across as manipulative?

Drop a pebble in water, see how the rings spread. If your product is the pebble, stay within the first rings, because the spread will happen without your help. Too often we see really far-fetched ideas seemingly not connected to a product at all, we call it 'mission escalation'. Most of these empowering women ideas are a result of such thinking, it's not about deodorant keeping you dry, but about confidence, then it's not abut physical confidence, but about power, and then it's not about power but about emotional power, and then suddenly it's about power itself and now the campaign is about giving power to the powerless. We've walked too far away from the product here. "Will keep you dry" is a promise the product can keep "Will let you win the Olympics because you're a powerful woman" is not. Aspirational is one thing, promising societal changes due to product use is not - unless the brand is fair trade, water saving, donating to research, planting trees or otherwise actively doing something other than making advertising.

Brand Equity: 4. Should they even care? Given the popularity of femvertising ads, do you think the consumer can call their bluff at all?

I've been waiting for the backlash to be honest, as it feels incredibly manipulative to me at this point, and surely the consumer sees through this. But then there are women and men working in advertising who have made it not only their mission, but also their genre and a source of income to keep femvertising going. There's seminars, workshops, conferences and research being made and sold to other advertisers, touting the need for women in every position and empowering women in every ad. Soon we'll see motor oil ads sold with a #LikeAGirl hashtag, I'm sure. Changing the oil #LikeAGirl, what does this even mean? Is this oil now better than the oil I normally use? The only thing that could possible topple the trend is the rise of dadvertising, which has been happening simultaneously. The consumer is only so happy to be celebrated. The consumer is a narcissist. The question is, if the products sold are moving any units with these campaigns. Sometimes we just want to buy a sandwich, because we're simply hungry, not buy into an entire political belief system to go with this sandwich.

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about the author

Dabitch Creative Director, CEO, hell-raising sweetheart and editor of Adland. Globetrotting Swede who has lived and worked in New York, London, San Francisco, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Stockholm.