A lot of advertising works by projecting an enhanced self-image. Advertising for most beauty products has traditionally fallen in this category. This time around, it’s the advertising and marketing industry which is trying to project an enhanced self-image. My view is that there is a growing self-realisation amongst ad and marketing people that they don’t want to pass through the annals of history as peddlers of soaps and shampoos. They want to stand for a higher purpose. They want their creativity to leave a mark, make a greater social difference, and maybe change the world for good. There’s also a realisation that brands can no longer sell mere consumption benefits; they need to become a part of the socio-cultural discourses of the times.
As a result, we see a rise in ad campaigns and marketing platforms that are about greater social good. Soap brands don’t merely sell beauty anymore; they sell the idea of imperfection (like Dove’s Real Beauty). Car brands are concerned about the safety of cyclists (Volvo spray paint that makes cyclists visible at night) and a cola brand ferries Filipino workers home for a festival (Coke’s Where Will Happiness Strike Next? campaign).
It is only natural then that the issue of gender imbalance and thereby women empowerment gets prominence. One, the issue of gender imbalance, at work as well as in life, has turned into a raging debate, not just in India but also globally. Two, many brands appealing to women are realising that they are fast running out of product differentiators, and building a larger purpose around the brand will help build a distinct tone of voice.
The other shift is the rising importance of digital as a medium. While on television, you can push messaging on why ‘your shampoo leads to stronger hair’ through sheer media weight, on digital platforms you need to strike a conversation with your audience. Chances are that a cause and a purpose around women empowerment will allow you to stir up conversations more easily than a protein molecule that brings shine to long, damaged hair.
The trending theme of women empowerment in marketing and advertising is both a function of how the society is viewing gender equations as well as the state and emotions of the advertising and marketing fraternity. It is good as far as it stays real. Brands adopting such platforms must put their money where their mouth is. They must put their skins in the game and help the cause through deeds and not just statements. Mere lip service may do more harm than good.
The author is CSO, Grey South & South East Asia