Girls Just Wanna’ have “FUN-damental” Rights: Gender and Messaging in Advertising

By Taylor Gombar

Women’s equality and sexual harassment claims were brought center stage at the 75th Golden Globe Awards. Female activists unapologetically spoke out on gender disparity in the workforce and drew attention to media intimidation. A united voice arose through a sea of black solitude—the voice of misrepresented women shunned by those behind the curtain. As marketers, we understand the benefits of gender segmentation and gender-specific targeting. Let us not ignore gender differences, but begin to shift the representation of women in advertising.

Women’s Shifting Attitudes & Behaviors

Women have fought gender stereotypes since the swaddled pink nursery blanket. Yet, recent studies unveiled supporting evidence that a leader’s effectiveness is not determined by gender. So why are women feeling bound by the stereotypes that accompany their gender (domestic, emotional, indecisive, and sexual, etc.)? Biased media may be a contributor. Media may be driving a glass ceiling in their quest for the corner office.

Lifestyle commercials and workplace misconduct are not holding weight against women’s united voice. Social movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have spotlighted women eager to share the true story. The true story emphasizes women securing leadership sponsorship and upper-management titles. The story also shines light to the various entrepreneurial ventures and start-ups founded by women.

Today’s Women in Advertising

So where are conflicting messages still arising? Advertising is a medium misrepresenting women’s lifestyle changes. Women are not only sexualized in the workplace, but they are also sexualized in product campaigns targeted at them. One advertising commercial features a woman in a bikini making sexual passes at the brand’s mascot (See: Yellow Tail Wine commercial). And when women are not sexualized in commercials they are shown pitted against each other (See: Real Awful Moms).

We have found that inaccurate depictions of women are not holding weight against their united voice. Social movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up have been to spotlight the voice of women eager to share the true story. It is our social responsibility to ensure that our published media reflect consumer attitudes. We must own our power of voice in marketing and begin leading the paradigm swing in favor of empowered women.

What’s the Answer for Marketers?

It is important to understand consumer attitudes and the parallel between your offerings. Societal beliefs are critical when leveraging product symbolism and value-expressive taglines. Gender-orientated content may begin to resonate when marketers form their communication strategies around the social judgement theory. Social Judgement Theory: The theory suggests that memorable content supports preexisting attitudes. When women view themselves as equal, brands must support previous notions to remain relevant to their target.

It is also our social responsibility as marketers to ensure that our published media reflects consumer attitudes. We must own our voice in taglines/production scripts. We must use our voice to support the career aspirations of our female buyers. And as copywriters and designers we can contribute to the paradigm swing in favor of empowered women. It is time that our voice reflects societal normalcies and tested truths.

Brands Leading Empowered Messages

So what brands are driving relevant messages to women? A few brands include: Always— “Like a Girl” campaign, Neutrogena—“See What’s Possible” campaign, and Ked—“Ladies First” campaign. Dove’s success is largely attributed to its emotional marketing campaign— “Real Beauty” campaign. The campaign positioned its skincare at women and inspired self-confidence. Dove gave women hustling for the corner office the confidence they need in the boardroom. Brands like Dove understand gender-targeting and have not ignored gender differences. However, Dove uses the differentiated attitudes as a discussion point to their product positioning. They understand the career aspirations of women and use their advertising to promote self-actualization.

As marketers, we must take the microphone and continue to drive accurate representations of women in the 21st century.