As a mid-20s female growing up in the United States, print and video advertising has been an ever-present part of daily life. It’s not something that anyone questions, and the content is almost subconsciously absorbed; as we accept images, depictions, and scenes that we’ve seen a hundred times—whether the message is positive or negative towards women.
I’ve seen ad campaigns that repeatedly use weight loss, anti-aging, wedding planning, and home-making as the only dimensions of life that define the female experience. For a long time, I wasn’t cognizant of the effect it had, as it was so constant and expected. A daily barrage of information on how to improve oneself, overlaid with images that depict the “happier,” “thinner,” and “prettier” life I could lead if I only purchased said product.
In hindsight, of course, it’s clear that the advertising and images we are fed on a daily basis have a huge impact on the way we see ourselves and our surroundings, and not necessarily in a positive way. I remember distinctly when my classmates, at the age of 10, started claiming they were on diets- almost as if it was a badge of honor… Now, we belong to the magical world of ‘woman’! Where everyone is on a diet, and hates the hair and body they were born with. Where “like a girl” is an insult, and apologies for one’s thoughts and opinions is the norm.
Recently, I’ve seen some campaigns that have given me hope that change is on the horizon. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, kicked off in 2004 and was recognized as an industry game-changer, spearheading the conversation focused on women embracing their inner beauty, diversity and authenticity. What a refreshing idea… a focus not on the physical, but rather on the unique attributes that make us who we are as women.
Below are some of my favorite video advertisements that focus on a positive message for girls and women.
Always Like a Girl: This video does an incredible job of showing the change to girl’s confidence that often happens in puberty—why is it that we as girls start second-guessing ourselves, just as we should begin to come into our own as women? Why is it that society’s influence at this critical phase in a girl’s life seems to be to bombard her with messages that cast internal doubts about her inherent value and capability right at this moment of great vulnerability—the transformative experience of transition from childhood to adolescence.
Pantene Not Sorry: One of my personal favorites, and one that carries the message of Always’s “Like a Girl” a step further. When did we as women begin feeling the need to apologize for ourselves? Young boys and girls start out with the same basic demand to have their opinions be heard, acknowledged, and acted upon. Why is it that when girls reach a certain age, they begin to feel the need to apologize for their opinions and thoughts instead?
GoldieBlox & Rube Goldberg Princess Machine: The first few seconds of this video, featuring “young girls in pink princess dresses” elicits a knowing chuckle from the viewer; it then quickly turns, and the user is drawn into a much more compelling scene, with the realization that advertisements depicting young girls creating, building, and exploring are few and far between. The reaction of the girls watching the advertisement, their look of boredom and incredulity, provides a candid response to the actually limiting nature of the advertising. The contrast is shocking in that it forces the viewer to realize that this is something that would generally go unnoticed since, as a culture, we’ve been socialized to expect the fuzzy-pink-unicorn-and-rainbow version of early female childhood.
Osmo Masterpiece: Another fabulous example of a young girl creating, this time even interacting with technology, something you don’t see a lot of either. The scene is so normal and genuine, that it begs the question of why it’s unusual to see in advertising.
Recognizing and celebrating the full range of personalities, interests, hopes, and dreams that children and adults have, creates valuable and productive discussions and allows for the existence of a positive and supportive environment for everyone. Not only that, but as Dove, Pantene, Always, GoldieBlox, and Osmo have demonstrated, advertisements that depict women for who they are – as multi-faceted, complex beings – makes for truly compelling, sometimes even viral, marketing as well.
Take GoldieBlox, for example: its Kickstarter campaign raised its lofty $150K goal in just 4 days. Dove, meanwhile, has won critical acclaim for its ads, including the top prize at the 2014 Effie Awards Gala and 19 total awards at the 2014 Cannes Lions festival, with the company nearly doubling its sales since launching the Real Beauty campaign in 2004.
Positive and multi-faceted depictions of women and girls in advertising should be the norm, and the success and popularity of the above examples are proof that we’re all more than ready for a tone-shift.
Have another favorite campaign, ad, or video? Add it in the comments below!