Cashing In On Feminism

Let me start off by saying that this isn’t a lecture about feminism. I’m not here to educate or to guilt anyone. This about how advertising at it’s very best can be used by brands to ultimately connect to their audience on a deeper and more compassionate level — how some brands attempt to use feminism to simply cash-in on a mere moment.

Now, with that said, let’s dive in.

I grew up believing I could be anything I worked towards. My parents never set a particular goal for me. Although, they had many hopes I’d be a scientist or an architect due to my fascination with Legos and Archeology; that, is until they saw my math scores. (I was much more interested in choir and history.) They never said I couldn’t achieve anything due to my height, race, gender, or sexual orientation. They did, however, prepare me for the fact that there are people in this world that would see, and sometimes say, otherwise. They mentioned that I would encounter things like greed, close-minded thinking, and ignorance. However, they also taught me that these were mere obstacles — nothing that I couldn’t overcome or get beyond.  Although I didn’t discover the term feminism until my early teens, I can confidently say that I was raised in a Feminist household. This movement is nothing new. It was alive before I was. Now that it’s resurged with a new generation, advertisers and brands are using the movement to connect to that surge.

It’s important for advertisers to know their audience and be able to relate. The better you can relate to your audience the more likelihood you can stand-out and stand-apart from the competition. However, it takes a lot of work and effort for advertisers to actually learn who their audience is and to really understand them — not just talk at them. In this day-and-age an advertiser can’t just go through the motions and attach themselves to a movement with a simple hashtag or bold statement. They have to truly live it, support it, and invest in it. Several brands have attempted this with feminism and few have prevailed. Secret is one of those brands.

While Secret is already a predominately female brand, they chose to connect to their audience on a deeper level than just unattractive, sweaty pit-stains or stress sweats that come with day-to-day life. They focused on what really causes those pit-stains and stress sweats and to show what a lot of women’s daily life can entail.

In their recent campaigns, they have been highlighting and combating current women’s issues and connecting to the stress that comes with it. In one of their recent ads there are two girls in an elevator, walking through a soon-to-be conversation about their new business. They test their handshake and talk through the conversation. Even practice how to handle a smug question of their skill set. The point is clear. The connection is strong, the messaging is talking directly to audience, and it only took about 30 seconds to get it. They’ve continued with similar ads about closing the wage gap, transgender matters, and overall flipping the script on gender norms. All have received praise and has increased Secret’s brand view among their audience.

While Secret has shown to continue, and foster a connection that already existed, there are other brands that seem to be using feminism in a moment to capitalize.

Now, before I get carried away in brand-bashing land (it’s easy to do), let’s keep in mind that being in touch with your audience takes a lot of work. Like I’ve mentioned before, you can’t just talk at your consumer, you really have to know what you’re saying. At the end-of-the-day consumers nowadays are smarter, more engaged, and if you don’t do this right you could end up damaging your brand more.

With that said, let’s talk about Audi and this year’s Super Bowl spot.

Audi is a luxury brand. It’s more of a gender-neutral product when you think of it, right? It’s a luxury car, it’s audience is really anyone that is interested in a luxury vehicle, am I right? Well, sort of. In recent years, they’ve been trying to grow out of their current luxury bubble and this was their attempt to do so. In this year’s Super Bowl ad they took a chance and attached themselves to today’s feminist movement.

In, what is now, the criticized ad you can hear a man’s voiceover having an inner dialogue regarding what to tell his daughter about how she will be treated in society. Automatically, the audience is not female. It’s male. It’s trying to be feminist. I can only assume that they were trying to reach fathers who are currently raising young daughters and how to approach the subject of sexism in today’s world.  The tone is overall negative. It opens with him questioning how to tell his daughter that her grandmother is worth less than her grandfather because of her gender. The message, while overall, is not hiding the current struggles that women face today but leaves the conversation open to the fact that things possibly won’t change, or maybe they could. Who knows? Not the most encouraging message really, because it doesn’t highlight the fact that things have changed. It ignores women who have made strides, or women who are currently making strides. It tries to capitalize on a dissatisfied area and shows no connection into how it can be further improved upon, or even how the brand is changing it. The message is overall disjointed. They end up talking at the consumer in vague terms like, ‘Unequal pay is bad. Inequality due to gender is bad. Maybe one day these things won’t be a problem, so that I don’t have to tell my young daughter about it.’ This tone is ultimately doing fathers and young women a disservice.

The irony of Audi’s campaign is that they had no idea what to tell their audience, just like the dad had no idea what to tell his daughter. They didn’t know how to talk to feminists who were raising young women. They didn’t know what to say. They thought that if they just highlighted the facts they knew about what today’s women go through that they would somehow fall in the safe-zone, attach themselves to the movement and hailed as a brave brand. But they forgot to showcase that women have made strides and continue to do so. Their goal tried to be profound, but only comes off slightly pretentious and ignorant.

It takes a lot of work for brands to connect with their audience on a deeper level than what they tend to project themselves as. Advertisers need to work smarter and harder now-a-days to connect with their audience. It’s not enough to just make a bold statement — you have to invest.