Advertising Is Advertising Is Advertising
Advertising is advertising is advertising. I will preach this from the mountaintops. When people talk about the cultural ramifications of “feminist” advertising, I have to roll my eyes a little bit. Advertising has one main goal: to sell people things. The methods employed to make people buy these things might change but advertising is not deep, it’s not intellectual, and frankly, I don’t think it’s all that important.
Dove’s Real Beauty Campaign made waves when it launched in 2004. It showed a number of “real” women of different races, ethnicities, and body types. Some praised it for its body positive message, others felt strange about the use of a body positive message to sell a product. Later, many would criticize the campaign, pointing out that Dove’s umbrella company Unilever also owns Axe, the brand that advertises itself as “a guy’s best first move.” Really, I don’t think Dove’s campaign is morally superior to Axe’s. Much of the advertising world profits from insecurities, it’s the easiest way to sell products. Now, Dove’s campaign might seem like the opposite, and therefore better than the alternative. However, I see these series of advertisements as really just profiting off of insecurities in a different way. Instead of saying “if you buy this soap you’ll be hotter” it’s saying “if you buy this soap you’ll feel better about yourself.” Both approaches already assume the insecurity of the buyer. Both messages are simply distractions from the reality that Dove is selling you a bar of soap and nothing else.
Dove isn’t the only company to try and change its marketing strategy. Always released their “Run Like A Girl” ad this year, Verizon aired a socially conscious demonstration of why girls are discouraged from pursuing science, Pantene had their “not sorry” ads. While these campaigns can be lauded for their feminist message, the products they’re selling aren’t creating more confident women, they’re leading more into stores to confidently buy a product because they saw strong women in certain ads.
So what’s wrong with all this? Aren’t feminist advertisements better than the alternative? In short, not really. Does it not seem troubling that corporations would use a liberation movement that already faces mockery and backlash to sell shampoo? Feminism is not as basic as these advertisements make it seem and using positive female messages as a marketing tool commodifies a movement that is still fighting real battles in the real world. When I see these ads, I don’t feel feminism is being honored, I think it’s being oversimplified to appeal to forward thinking women. Above all, it is insincere. It’s same old-same old. Advertising is advertising is advertising.
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.