We have seen a global wave of empowering communication aimed at appealing mostly to girls and womxn. Womxn, in all of their complex glory are finally going mainstream! This brand of communication has us all in awe of how represented we all feel, finally we are seen and seem to have a seat at the table. Should we be skeptical or should we be celebrating?
The term “femvertising” has become the buzzword in ideation and strategy meetings worldwide. Femvertising is defined by SheKnows Media, which awards one winner in the category annually, as “advertising that employs pro-female talent, messages and imagery to empower women and girls.” Have the #PaleStale&Male boys clubs a la Mad Men finally heard our calls for more? I think not. We have been duped and to (reluctantly) paraphrase Trump; they’ve grabbed us by the pussy. Using the rich and visually appealing storytelling narrative, brands are given new life (and a new audience) by simply acknowledging the existence of more than half the population. In truth, the phrase should not have to exist at all. It’s like saying #FeesMustFall. Education should be free in the first instance; the fight towards it shouldn’t even exist. And yet here we are. McKinsey Global Institute says “there is $28tn missing from the global economy because we don’t have gender equality”. While slightly commendable “femvertising is still clearly just a numbers game.
The lean toward a vagina-centric feminism is another harmful and crass attempt at appealing to womxn in the femvertising toolkit. The influence of white feminism is clear. You can almost hear ECD’s ticking off boxes in a strat session “we need a token black/POC, 3 white women, one should be plus-sixed, one with a visible disability and a hot blonde for the guys to ogle over”. Most times that very decision maker is a woman. White, I mean well meaning of course. These boxes are not ticked for representation rather to prevent a social media meltdown from social justice warriors. Armed with cellphones, laptops and an Internet connection, this hive is brutal and unstoppable until someone accounts. This formulaic approach taken by some shows what happens when a brand jumps on to seem trendy. There are too many hashtags to mention that demonstrate these epic fails, the most recent being Pepsi. The fails demonstrate the consequences of co-opting feminist concepts to sell products. The result leads to the brand actually upholding gender norms- the very norms it sought to address and shatter in the first place. What a LOL, what a wow.
The rise in social justice movements influencing the narrative online and IRL has placed undeniable pressure on advertisers, marketers and PR teams to know the jargon and adapt in order to capture the attention (and spend) of the “woke” millennial. This demographic in particular is sinking whole industries and the old people are shooketh. Internet access and social media have shown brands that representation sells. Shallow or not, people like to see themselves through the eyes of their current or aspirational brands. The release of feel good hormones creates kinship like no other. Social media has made big and small brands accessible and within reach. Social media reach even extends into real life with brands hosting luncheons, parties and entrepreneurial seminars and events to appeal (and trend). Social media has also democratized conversations in a way that no other tool has this century. Instead of being spoken at, womxn have their say on social and the numbers don’t lie. The demographics and psychographics show noticeably where the spending power lies in the home. Womxn have been able to leverage this soft power to initiate campaigns of all nature and most importantly to hold brands accountable to their consumers in a way that has not been required before.
“We need to see a move away from ‘feminist ads’ to a place where all adverts have an inherently female viewpoint. “We need to normalise the experience of being a woman in advertising. If companies have any sense at all they will embrace it and future proof their business.”- Karen Blackett.
Its not all doom and gloom, there are 3 important way a brand can use this information wisely (There are actually 5 but you’ll have to bill me for the rest). Its just good business.
- Be specific– the brand must be clear about which part of womanhood to capture so as to create commonality for the audience
- Get your community involved- real brand, real people. User generated images are free and feel-good asset
- Values- the brand must stand for something that will be its anchor at all times. (Plus its easier to collaborate with like-minded brands and influencers, micro-influencers, celebrities and others if brand values are clear)
Truth is, something is always for sale and the question isn’t do we buy but rather can we justify? Co opting feminism isn’t new and it will not end any time soon. Capitalism and feminism are forging an interesting relationship with each wave of either theory. The undeniable fact is we are in the matrix and the core function of capitalism is to pivot to find an angle and sell. Always. Stay woke.