Many companies have seized upon fempowerment but sometimes it's a shallow effort that doesn’t align with their wider business behaviour. How can brands avoid such empty marketing?
PR: Fempowerment from brands like Dove and Nike has achieved some remarkable things for brands and women. But that shouldn’t camouflage the limitations of the fempowerment discourse, which continues to put the problem back on to women to work harder, lean in, be more confident, braver. It conveniently sidesteps – and often quite cynically – the endemic, systematic failings that allow sexism to persist, and which continue to keep women in a secondary place.
Instead, what women-made brands like Starling Bank or Girlfriend Collective are demonstrating is a way forward that fixes the system. They are sorting out the sector’s problems, rather than telling the audience they need to sort themselves out. That’s why this alignment between what a company says and what it does is crucial as fempowering becomes strained and scrutinised.
With that in mind, is representation something advertising and brands must explicitly talk about or highlight, or should it just be a given?
JC: Representation is really important to make sure that people feel seen – only in the past 10 years have women of colour been adequately represented in beauty and in fashion. But even this can feel tokenistic unless there's more to it. This is where the hard work needs to happen. It isn't enough to just have a nice mission statement saying you support women – you need to genuinely be on-side with women and offer them products and services that meet their needs, rather than selling to them on the basis of making them feel bad about themselves.
Drawing on your advertising expertise and work and research leading Pretty Little Head, what do you forecast to be the next areas of disruption or aspiration in advertising to women?
PR: The women-made offer is going to be very disruptive across all sorts of categories. The other significant area of disruption is age. The fact is that older women – half the female audience – are almost completely unseen by advertisers. It’s an astonishing omission. And even on the occasions when we see older women in communications, they typically look rather sad and wistful.
: New book Brandsplaining is a state-of-the-nation, data-led analysis of marketing to women today, co-authored by Jane Cunningham and Philippa Roberts, founders of Pretty Little Head research
: The book builds on 15 years of research by Cunningham and Roberts, a survey of 14,000 women, and an extensive content analysis of how brands are marketing to women
: Brandsplaining’s 10 principles seek to future-proof the ways in which companies listen to, present, address and champion women in an advertising landscape that's continually changing and evolving
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