Rashna Abdi, Chief Creative Officer, IAL Saatchi & Saatchi, on the subtle art of putting women centre stage.
The purpose of advertising is to sell products, affect consumption patterns and change lifestyles. Advertising with a purpose has the power to affect how we think and change lives. Femvertising, a buzzword in the industry, is not feminist advertising, it is simply advertising that uses real and relatable female imagery with messaging that is relevant to the contemporary female, be it a home-maker or young professional, grandmother or teenager.
The flag bearer for femvertising is without a doubt Dove, with their valiant cry for real beauty standards and images. A decade ago, the launch campaign for #RealBeauty was dismissed by some naysayers as a one-off, a stunt to get attention. It did, but contrary to expectations, the brand persisted, and in doing so brought attention to a far greater cause – the unrealistic ideals that young girls are exposed to and the effect of this on their confidence and self-esteem. The awards rolled in and the campaign almost doubled sales from $2.5 billion to nearly four billion in the opening year, proving that femvertising sells.
Always was a brand that consistently talked about confidence – but in more product-centric terms. The #LikeAGirl campaign took on a stereotype that every girl has grown up with and turned it into something much more positive. In doing so, the brand triggered a conversation about menstruation and the effects of puberty on a girl’s confidence and choices. The social experiment based campaign was so powerful that a study undertaken a year later revealed that 70% of men said it changed the way they perceived the phrase ‘Like a girl’.
So femvertising works. Some may argue that femvertising works well with female- centric brands because women are more likely to listen to a brand that is talking directly to them and addressing a social issue that bothers them.
No. It works when there is an insight, when the messaging is delicately crafted and when the brand persists. It works when we stop thinking of it as femvertising and just advertising that happens to talk to women in the right way. It works when we start putting more women in non-female centric ads.
We don’t need to shout empowerment from the rooftops or carry out a polarising crusade to convert non-believers, we just need to write great stories with relatable insights – then change the male protagonist to female. Tell stories that make women feel valued and relevant beyond serving meals and making tea. Then start seeding in issues that matter. Take Eva Cooking Oil – a small brand being persistent and taking a different path. A year ago, the #ChangeTheLullaby campaign showed mothers who changed lullabies about castles and princes to stories about girls in charge of their own destiny. There was no log kya kahen gay or disapproving parents, just two young people reaching out for their dreams. The two young people just happened to be women. This year, the brand celebrated the bond between fathers and daughters. No overprotected nanni paris or stern fathers relenting to a daughter’s tears, just a father’s voice going from fondness to pride, talking about their child’s professions, of their child doing well at sports, of their child resembling them in looks or habits, and at times indulging their child’s questionable fashion choices. That child could easily have been a boy, but the story just worked better with a girl.
You know a campaign works when it starts to influence other brands – Blue Band’s next commercial was on a similar track and Kia Motors brought in a very charming story of the special bond between a father and daughter under the idea of #DifferentIsGood.
Tea is drunk by both women and men. But if conventional tea advertising was anything to go by, you would have thought that the only role women had was to make a cup or two. The Tapal #TumMainAurAikCupChai seems simple enough, a man making a cup of tea for his wife and a few stolen moments of romance. Now it has gone beyond that to a young couple looking after their newborn together and the young mother who wants to go back to work. She is working late yet again, much to her mother-in-law’s consternation and the boy realises that his mother looks forward to that quick conversation at breakfast. The stories just happened to have men making the tea. At no point did the brand rap men on the knuckles for not making tea, we just showed them doing so. At no point did we whine about women not being given enough attention, we just showed them being valued.
Generation (the clothing brand) have been remarkably consistent and distinctive, in both their design philosophy and their communication. The unpretentious, boho-chic, laissez-faire design philosophy is matched by the communication that features real women – of varying height and age, sizes plus to petite, and every shade of skin. The result is a brand that comes across as nonjudgmental, authentic and accessible. Again, at no point does the brand preach a particular line of thought; a few simple executional fixes and being persistent ensured that a brand embodies Pakistani values and at the same time values Pakistani women.
National Foods Recipe Mixes too have changed the narrative from celebrating traditional womanhood to a more contemporary approach. The #JoyOfCookingTogether campaign showed a mother teaching her son how to cook, a grandfather putting together an Instagrammable worthy dish with the help of his granddaughter, a working couple packing their identical lunches and a couple experimenting with a complicated dish. The follow-up told the story of three couples at different stages of married life – the newly-marrieds getting to know each other and the hang of the kitchen; the ones with young children where the husband enthusiastically helps out his wife and the older couple completely in sync with each other putting together a Sunday lunch. Again, the subtlety worked; at no point were men shamed into helping their wives. We just told sweet, engaging stories of men as comfortable with a recipe as they would have been with a car manual.
Dawlance deviated from the conventional wisdom surrounding household appliance communication which focused on men as the target. The result was a campaign that lauded women, professionals and homemakers alike for #MakingPakistanProud. Bonanza Satrangi and Tibet both released advertising spots celebrating female athletes. Pepsi have told stories about aspiring female cricketers, and featured a heroic little girl in Litre Of Light and boxer Anita Karim in Pepsi Black. In a refreshing move, EFU moved away from the tired storyline of making marriage plans for daughters and education plans for sons. Instead, they featured a modern working couple both equally in control of financial decisions, later seen trying to decide the perfect profession for their little girl. The Milco-Lu comeback commercial featured the story of two cute kids attached at the hip, celebrating the fervour of childhood friendships. The two kids could easily have been boys, they just happened to be girls. And that didn’t stop boys from eating the biscuit.
A random rant about injustice or patriarchy will get the requisite social buzz going, but it will be polarising and divisive; it will be self-indulgent and purpose-less. Femvertising when done right will build your brand and sell your products; even influence society in a positive way. But it works especially well when it doesn’t alienate men, when it is consistent and not a one-off, when it integrates your brand and product. It needs to be inclusive, not exclusive.
It is really that simple.
Rashna Abdi is Chief Creative Officer, IAL Saatchi & Saatchi.