Femvertising And What It Says About Us
You would have to live under a rock to avoid advertising in our 21st century capitalist society. Whether it's billboards as we cruise down the highway, pop-ups on our laptops, or commercials crammed between the cliffhangers of our favorite shows, ads pervade nearly every facet of our lives. Naturally, businesses and nonprofits are constantly searching for new and innovative ways to grab our attention and our money. It should come as no surprise, then, that more and more ad campaigns have begun to cater to a target demographic's ideals and values. When a company creates a socially relevant ad, they are doing so because they know that their target audience already supports whatever revolutionary message it is they want to share with the world and will thus be more inclined buy their product.
So when we see ad campaigns that preach messages about body positivity, girl power, or defying stereotypes, it’s important to take them with a grain of salt. The values with which a company associates itself say little to nothing about the ethics of the actual human beings who made the ad or of the wealthy CEOs who run these corporations.
This is not to say, however, that “feminist” ads aren’t a reason to celebrate.
Advertisements say more about the people who watch them than about businesses themselves. The very purpose of a business is to make money. If people agree with the ads, the company makes more profit. If people don’t like their ads, it does not. Smart businesses create ads that highlight values consumers can identify with—compassion, family, health, etc. An uptick in feminist advertising (see Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, Under Armor’s “I Will What I Want” ad featuring Misty Copeland, Always’ #LikeAGirl campaign, and many more) indicates an uptick in feminism itself.
Yet at the same time, there’s no denying that companies with different target demographics have strikingly different marketing campaigns. Axe Body Spray’s [in]famous ads often portray women as sexual objects who will surely come running once you put on some Axe brand cologne (Axe, as I once learned from a highly informative YouTube video by the one and only Hank Green, is, interestingly enough, owned by the same corporation as Dove). In 2007, the beer company Heineken came out with an advertisement featuring an attractive female robot who dispenses beer from her abdomen and replicates herself to create two identical, dancing, sexually charged beer machines. Tom Ford Menswear has come out with a slew of controversial ads that display cologne bottles between women’s breasts and naked thighs, women acting as nude, sexy decorations for well-dressed white men, and one particularly disturbing ad in which a woman wearing nothing but high heels irons a pair of pants while staring intently at a man wearing a suit-jacket and a pair of boxers (this man being, presumably, the owner of the aforementioned pants). And that’s just to name a few.
While we often lump “American culture” or “Western culture” into one big category, culture is nuanced and multi-faceted. People who buy skin lotions, hair care products, and feminine pads appear to be influenced by ads that empower women, while people who buy men’s cologne, beer, and suits seem to prefer ads that sexualize them. The fact that ads targeted at straight males often portray women as purely sexual beings is highly problematic. If we aim to reduce sexual violence in our society, bombarding men with images of women as beer-dispensers or cologne-holders is not the way to do it.
So the next time you see an ad on your TV or computer screen that speaks to or undermines your ethical values, ask yourself, what does this say about us?
This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.
How to cite this page
Kozukhin, Yana. "Femvertising And What It Says About Us." 19 February 2015. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 17, 2021) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/femvertising-and-what-it-says-about-us>.