#MeToo: Check out these advertising cliches first!

Los Angeles
20 Jul. 2020

Three decades ago, a dish washer liquid brand irked then 11-year-old Meghan Markle. So much so that she wrote a letter to the then first lady Hillary Clinton and to a few of her favorite TV show women hosts. She also wrote to the soap manufacturing company for engaging in such a TV commercial production that put women in a digressive light. She received  letters of encouragement from all those women. She was also covered on television for taking up a cause such as that. A month later, the manufacturer – Procter and Gamble changed its advert’s main tagline. You know what the original tagline was?

Photo by Isaiah Rustad on Unsplash

Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans.

Meghan Markle is now the Duchess of Sussex and we have moved on from digressive ads, haven’t we? Of course we have! Check out some pet themes of the advertising world when it comes to selling to women. Shall we?

# 1. All women want fair and white skin

White is purity. Since time immemorial, the purity of a woman (hell yeah, women HAVE TO BE pure) is reflected in her fair (read white) alabaster skin. Well, at least the German skincare brand Nivea certainly thought so. Imagine the relevance of inserting the ‘white is purity’ concept in a deodorant advert! Wait, until you hear Unilever’s idea of advertising.

Some context first. So Unilever has a personal care brand Dove that mainly caters to women folk living in countries such as  Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Israel and the likes. It’s so obvious that these women want ‘white skin’ and Dove’s video production agency ensured that the message was sent across loud and clear. One of its recent ads that was first released on Facebook showed a black woman taking off her brown shirt and coming out as a white woman wearing a white shirt! How clever is that! How much all brown, black, wheatish women crave for such a dream to come true, isn’t it Dove? The sheer number of cosmetic companies selling the idea of ‘fairness’ and ‘white skin’ to be supreme in Asian, South American and European markets is baffling.

# 2. Women generally have very low self-esteem

When it comes to selling to women, a lot of advertisers have another magic wand: low self-esteem. The general assumption is at least nine out of 10 women ‘suffer’ from low self-esteem. Somehow men in all of our ads seem to have more serious concerns in life than self-esteem. Low self-esteem is the textbook formula from the school of noted brands such as Victoria Secret. Social media video production companies or agencies absolutely love to play on this theme which after all, has survived centuries.

Take for instance Victoria Secret’s 2014 campaign ‘Perfect Body Bra’ that featured 10 thin and tall women showing off the various sizes of the bra. The ad evoked such strong emotions that not only was it mocked on various social media platforms but also attracted an online petition with more than 27,000 people voting against it. So advertisers changed the ad punch line to – “a body for everybody.” What does that even mean? Go figure!

# 3.  The man owns the woman and he is her only purpose in life

Oh advertising world’s textbook, how you continue to spill out clichés after clichés. Your clichés are so delicious that even brands such as Audi cannot resist smacking their lips on some of those. Audi came up with this totally fresh take on comparing cars. The advert that released in China in 2017 compared buying a car with choosing a wife because obviously, women are a property just like cars. It’s an advertising marvel of sorts because Audi convinced at least three female models agreeing to act in this ad. Turned out a whole lot of women around the world had an advice or two for the prestigious car brand that’s yet to take it down.

Swedish furniture brand IKEA, just like many others, exploited the century-surviving notion that the purpose and worth of a woman’s life is finding a guy. Ofcourse, the TV commercial production company hired for creating the ad took it a few notches up. The advert was meant for Chinese buyers (specifically women) and shows a mother telling her daughter to stop calling her ‘Mom’ unless the latter brings home a man next time. Such a deep thought to get them to buy your furniture? Bravo! Ofcourse, IKEA had to issue a public apology but little has been learnt from this fiasco.

# 4. Women don’t watch Superbowl. Oh, wait, do they?

What do the facts say? As many as 54 million women watched the Super Bowl in 2017 which makes up 49% of the total audience. Okay, now how do advertisers see this? Women don’t want Superbowl much! Evidence – 76% of Super Bowl ads featured men as the principal character in the last few decades, informed Raymond Taylor, professor of marketing at Villanova School of Business. To top that, most of Superbowl ads are downright demeaning to the womenfolk.

Take for example, beer brand Budlight’s ‘Satin sheets’ ad back in 2002 made two major assumptions: 1] Women don’t drink beer 2] Beer is more important than both the Superbowl and your wife/girlfriend.

But this is 2018, you would say! Who makes such digressive ads anymore? Well, then, do check out most of 2017 ad campaigns  during the games that left out women from the narrative altogether. The one advert that did have women actually drew a lot of attention from the housewives. Are you ready for this?

The World of Tanks commercial showed a tank practically bulldozing a house full of women in a ‘hair-pulling’ brawl over trivial issues such as children. A standing ovation for some progression in Super Bowl shall we say?

The need for handling #MeToo with care in advertising

Are you considering including themes of #MeToo in your video production? It’s important to understand the complete context. There’s a reason why #MeToo became what it did: the stigma of speaking out about an almost sexual assault at workplace. The fact that from the President of the world’s most powerful country to Hollywood’s top producers have been involved in inappropriate behaviour goes on to show how  much women’s testimonies are not taken seriously. 

And now even a Supreme Court jurist has been accused by several women of sexual misconduct. President Donald Trump’s nominee Bret Kavannah was accused by two women from his school and college time about his misconduct. What’s disheartening is the way both the Presidential administration and Kavannah himself have denied the allegations and responsibility.

Feeling Deja vu much? Three decades ago, American Attorney and Academic Anita Hill had accused the then Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual misconduct. What was so disheartening about the whole trial was the series of outrageous questions that the senators had asked Anita about her own conduct.

The sheer number of #MeToo stories from all walks of life suggests a trend: a trend that when a woman questions a man’s conduct, she is often labelled and demeaned. A major part of the reason is the way women have been typecast by society and the media. This is precisely why advertisers need to break stereotypes about women. The medium of video production is powerful and moving. It impacts a human mind more deeply than any other medium.

If you are a national or a local production agency, we advise you to handle #MeToo with care. There are a few things to consider if you are contemplating to include #MeToo as a theme in your advertising campaigns.

  • Do not take up #MeToo theme just because it is trending. Unless you can add to the impact of the campaign, avoid it by all means. You will do more harm than good to both the campaign and your women customers.
  • Avoid political and #MeToo themes together. There’s already a lot of noise in that department which is irking womenfolk.
  • Include themes of empowerment such as entrepreneurship, women’s education and awareness about sexual misconduct instead of glaringly encashing on the trends.
  • Educate men, for a change, through your video production or adverts. Include real men, male models talking about the campaign and how men worldwide need to break stereotypes about women.
  • Avoid suggestions of ‘gender wars’. #MeToo is an awareness campaign against sexual misconduct, it’s not a war between genders.

A report from ThinkWithGoogle suggests that women are watching content related to business news, small business and ‘how-to’ videos way more than content related to beauty and fashion. Need we say more?

Los Angeles
20 Jul. 2020
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