The image of 'powerful women' has been getting more and more popular in the advertising industry lately. Does it mean that the objectification of women is diminishing, or is this just another way of exploitation?
History of modern advertising goes back centuries. So does the history of objectification of women in marketing. One the one hand, the problem has been getting worse continuously. The image of the 'ideal woman' has reached the impossible at any level, both anatomically and psychologically.
On the other hand, more and more women have been raising their voices against these false ideals. So, more and more companies started listening to them and using 'real women' in their campaigns. However, we don't still know if this new trend will change the whole industry and wipe the discrimination and objectification out, or is it just going to enable companies to exploit women's rights defenders too.
The first-wave feminism had to deal with legal inequalities like women's suffrage in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; after that, the fight was broadened to include gender norms by the second-wave in the 60s. Then came the third-wave concentrating on many things, including diversity.
So, the struggle is not new. What is new, however, is that women who were able to 'make it' were mostly silent before, but they have been raising their voice lately.
When an activist talks about the issue, they are easier to ignore. Yet, if it's Adele who says, "I love food and hate exercise. I don't want to be on the cover of Playboy or Vogue. I'd rather weigh a ton and make an amazing album than look like Nicole Richie and do a shit album. My aim in life is never to be skinny," that's completely different, just like when Alicia Keys chose to appear without any makeup on her photoshoot for a single.
When Agnes Hedengard, a 19-year-old Swedish model who many people thought was too thin already, uploaded a video of her saying that she's been told to lose weight if she was to get modeling jobs she wanted, it created a considerable buzz.
The incidents we've mentioned were not, of course, the only ones. Women had demands and companies, even some governments listened.
In 2014, Always #LikeAGirl campaign, which was very helpful to the cause by turning an insult to a motto of confidence, was launched. In 2016, the Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli, who had a habit of releasing an annual calendar of nude women, replaced its theme with influential and strong women. In 2017, France banned extremely thin models. Even Barbie, one of the most criticized companies when it comes to the objectification of women, unveiled 17 new dolls based on inspiring women like Frida Kahlo and Chloe Kim, last year.
The list was getting longer and longer. Smirnoff and Spotify’s Equaliser, H&M’s She’s a Lady, Dove’s Speak is Beautiful, Western Union’s #TheRaceIsOn, Mercy Academy’s Not a Princess, and Pantene’s Labels Against Women are just a few more to name.
Unlike most of these campaigns, Nike’s plus-size female mannequin was considered controversial. "Nike is about sports, sports is about health, and plus-size is unhealthy," said some. Nevertheless, the campaign increased awareness of the company's plus-size offerings in an industry that often lacks options for larger women. As a result of this, searches of 'Nike' and 'plus size' have grown by 387%, and clicks on the mannequin's tights increased 200% in a short time.
This brings to us to a new discussion: We know that advertising using a more positive female image helps companies. These companies are businesses, which means their goal is to make money. So being more sensitive about the issue doesn't necessarily mean that their priority is to help create a gender-equal society. Well, then how can we be sure that they are not just exploiting the rising feminist trend?
First of all, even if these are just populist steps, they are most likely to help the cause, because they have a significant potential to become precedents if nothing else. Gucci choosing Armine Harutyunyan, an Armenian model considered 'ugly' in today's twisted beauty standards, for the Milan Fashion Wee, might be just a PR strategy. Still, it will encourage a rival brand that hadn't acted brave enough to do the same before. Why shouldn't these 'PR tactics' add up to change the norms of the industry?
The skeptics have their arguments too. How can we trust a firm if it doesn’t pay its employees equally? There are many advertising agencies bringing up the problem, mostly upon their customers’ request, with many great campaigns, but at how many of these agencies there is not a gender pay gap?
In short, no matter what the real motivation is, an influential person or company doing something about the problem is a good thing, as long as people keep asking questions and demanding more.
Let's say you have come to understand that you should advertise more to men than women. What's next? Now you have to know what's trending lately amongst your target audience. 'Trends' feature of Kimola's Social Research Platform can be a great help.