Feminism in Advertising: Between Progressivism and Opportunism
Filiform women, legs apart and in more than suggestive positions: Fashion house Yves Saint Laurent’s last poster campaign has hit the target. After more than fifty complaints filed on the ARPP (the French Authority for the Professional Regulation of Advertising) website, and an intervention by the Minister of Women’s Rights – judging the campaign ‘humiliating and inciting to anorexia’ –, the ads were removed without any comments from the luxury brand. The woman-object image is no longer accepted, and beware of the brands which would attempt to impose a retrograde vision of woman upon us.
In recent years, many brands have chosen to commit themselves in favour of women. One may take the example of Dove, a pioneer in the field, which from 2004 has become the ambassadorial brand of plural women through its advertisements. Militant, bold, opportunistic, feminist advertisements often convey a positive image of the companies that run them, often praised by the media and associations.
These campaigns that break stereotypes and clichés on the status of women contribute, beyond simply making people smile, to changing attitudes. Yes, women can be hairy, lean or round, funny, daring, sporty. Yes, they can also hold positions of high responsibility.
After Dove, many brands have followed the movement and held engaged speeches on women’s conditions (Always and its famous campaign #Likeagirl, H&M and its campaign ‘She’s a Lady’, Decathlon and its slogan ‘Everyone has the Right to Play’, Dior and its spring-summer 2017 campaign that revealed women in their plurality, etc.). Today, “female empowerment” has the wind in its sails. Indeed, the image benefit for brands is often finally transformed into commercial profit. There is no doubt that if sexism brings less and less money, feminism sells more and more, encouraging brands to invest this territory without taboo.
But some of these speeches, seeking to be more progressive than ever, sound decidedly false.
And nothing like International Women’s Day to remind it to us. Indeed, there are numerous brands that, under the guise of this day, have demonstrated a questionable marketing opportunism by playing the feminism card. The underwear brand Etam took advantage of March 8th to launch large promotion operations: a pair of panties offered for the purchase of a bra. C-Discount offered a 19% discount to women in all its stores ‘because women earn on average 19% less than men’. Elsewhere, brands have made promotions on linens or cosmetics.
Behind this openly displayed feminism, brands often hide simple marketing hits, or worse concealed sexism. So shall we condemn any feminist approach in advertising under the guise of the instrumentalisation risk? Not necessarily. But it is up to our profession, under ARPP control, to ensure respect for women image and dignity.