When they are not helping companies make a profit off of your insecurities and gullibility, advertisements can actually be a very powerful medium to propagate change.
Here are six ads that helped major brands shatter gender stereotypes and shed light on inequality prevalent across the globe.
1. Dove Men+Care- Real Strength (USA)
What is ‘real’ strength? What makes someone a real man? Contrary to popular belief, manliness is not directly proportional to the amount of hair on your chest or the musculature of your pectorals, nor is real strength measured by the extent to which your physical capabilities match those of a giant silverback gorilla. So what is the ultimate formula to achieve the highest level of manhood? Guess what? There isn’t one. But there is one thing that will give you a boost over the rest: care. Care for the people you love and who love you. Emotions do not make a man weak; they make him a pillar of strength for those who depend on him, and this ad does an absolutely brilliant job in illustrating this concept. So, if you hug your children when they are scared at night you are strong, and you should be proud of that fact.
2. Barbie – Imagine the Possibilities (USA)
Little girls spend most of their time imagining their future with the help of their little plastic playmates - and although this may come as a shock to many, a large number of them do not aspire to be princesses or ballerinas. So, put away the tutus and tiaras - these little girls want to be football coaches, college professors and CEOs. Little girls can be anything they want to be, and this ad puts it out there in an adorable way. And while we are on the subject, next time Mattel should maybe focus on making a Barbie that doesn’t have an unbelievably tiny waist, because if it gets any tinier she may rupture her little plastic spleen (if she hasn’t already). It will help girls grow up and imagine their future without hating their bodies, which might be an upgrade in the whole women empowerment thing they are going for.
3. UN Women- Give Mom Back Her Name (Egypt)
What do you do when somebody speaks your mother’s name? Well, you punch them in the face really, really hard and in so doing, rob her of the ‘luxury’ of actually having a name. Sadly, this is what happens in many Middle Eastern societies. So on Mother’s Day this year, UN Women decided to do something about it. When you refuse to take a person’s name, you strip them of their individuality. Your name is your identity, it is who you are, and this powerful campaign by UN Women forced many Middle Eastern men to ask themselves the question of: How can you take away the name of the woman who gave you yours? A mother is not only a mother, she is a person in her own right and having her own identity is her fundamental right. This ad created a storm over this Arabic tradition and encouraged young men to speak their mother’s name on social media with the pride, love and respect it deserves.
4. Sport England- This Girl Can (UK)
To all the young girls and women who don’t exercise because they are afraid of being judged, think about this... so you don’t have the body of a Greek goddess which looks as if it’s been carved into perfection by angels? Well then here is a news flash: Most of us don’t. Are you ready for the next jaw-dropping revelation? You are just as beautiful anyway. Thank you Sport England for doing what so many brands should have done a long time ago. Thank you for giving women the power to overcome their insecurities and the confidence to not want to give up a sport every time they took a look in the mirror with their gym-wear on. To all of you reading this (men included), go out and run to your heart’s content. If people stare, let them - people always stare at works of art.
5. HBL- Samina Baig (Pakistan)
I am particularly proud of this ad because it is from home. It warmed my heart that for once, ad agencies gave up on annoying jingles and Zubaida Apa and did something that can actually be counted as a step towards women empowerment. This TVC gives courage to so many women (in Pakistan and elsewhere) to pursue their dreams and believe that a woman can do everything a man can. Hats off to whoever came up with the idea of making Samina Baig HBL’s brand ambassador.
6. Ariel- Share the Load (India)
This ad deals with an idea that many women in our part of the world have been puzzling over for decades. Why do men consider household chores to be solely a woman’s job? If you find it troubling that your wife, after working at a job all day does not have time to wash your dirty underwear, then you don’t need a wife, you just need a dhobi. This TVC kicked off a social media campaign that spread like wildfire, going as far as to make prominent designers add gender neutral wash-care labels reading ‘can be washed by both men and women #sharetheload’, to reassure men that doing the laundry will really not taint their delicate manhood. Matrimonial websites added the extra question of whether men were willing to ‘share the load’, to which millions of men responded positively. If that is not a step forward, I don’t know what is.
Rajaa Moini is a student, freelance graphic designer and an aspiring journalist.