STYLE

When Will Celebrating Women In Advertising Become The Norm?

23/10/2014 12:42 | Updated 20 May 2015

So Facebook's chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, says there should be more ads that celebrate women.

I'd go further than that. I'd say there need to be fewer ads that portray women as daft birds who need to be patted on the head and told "calm down dear".

60s adverts

If you take a look back at advertising from the 1960s, it's so bad it's comical. Treading on women (literally), blowing smoke in their faces and making them bow down before their menfolk – all completely acceptable.

You'd think things would have changed in the last 50 years or so, wouldn't you? Not so much. Hardly surprising, when you consider the point Sandberg made, which is that only around three per cent of creative directors in the US are women.

"Despite the great progress women have made, there is real stagnation at the top," she told a panel at Advertising Week US in New York.

Stagnation? That's a good word to describe the seething cesspool of sexism that still drips into our everyday lives.

It might explain phenomena such as #PatronisingBTLady, the ad produced by Better Together, which generated outrage on Twitter with its sexist and patronising tone.

The issue of Scottish independence, it seemed, was all too confusing and this poor little housewife couldn't get her pretty little head around it. So, better vote No to be on the safe side then.

Then there were some of the regressive marketing campaigns around the World Cup this year – again, remind yourself that it's 2014, not 1966.

Pot Noodle produced a talking beach towel that leered at women who wore teeny weeny bikinis. Nice.

Meanwhile a number of other ads played on the theme that men would have to lie to 'their women' and trick them in order to be able to watch the football. Currys PC World created a series of adverts showing men trying to persuade their partners why they needed a new TV – for example, 'for Pride and Sensibility'. Because women only like costume dramas, you see?

Pringles Man hid his phone in a Pringles tube, so that his missis couldn't bother him during the England match. And Heineken encouraged women to go shopping for shoes during the Champions' League Final, because of course they wouldn't be interested in football, which is a Man's Game.

So is it actually possible to create ads that celebrate women? Well, yes, it is. There are a few of them out there. But the fact that they get singled out for so much praise is in itself rather disturbing. "You made an advert that didn't make women feel bad about themselves! Well done you!"

Still, praise where praise is due. The Dove 'Real Beauty' campaign has been running for 10 years and has gone some way to changing the landscape of advertising to women, using photographs of 'real women'.

Lucy Attley, Dove Brand Director, says: "The central goal of Dove's Real Beauty campaign is to make beauty a source of confidence, not anxiety for women everywhere.

"When the campaign was launched in 2004, a staggering 75 today, with the perception being that more diversity is portrayed in the images of women we see around us. We truly believe that Dove has played a role in changing this perception for the better.

dove real beauty

"There will always be more to be done and so Dove will continue to champion Real Beauty for Real Women. Do we believe a day will come where every woman feels confident enough to call themselves 'beautiful'? That is our ultimate goal, and we won't stop our work until we reach it."

That's a pretty ambitious goal, particularly given the environment in which we live. In pursuit of it, Dove has just launched a new campaign 'Be Real: Body Confidence for Everyone' which was created in response to the 2012 All Party Parliamentary Group for Body Image report.

The aim is to help change attitudes towards body image and help people put health above appearance – it's got a heavy social media marketing campaign and is being supported by Debenhams, Facebook, the YMCA and schools.

Another company to recognise the power of celebrating women was Under Armour, which this year aimed to rebrand itself away from its 'masculine' image with its 'I Will What I Want' ads.

Their advert featuring dancer Misty Copeland, defying a rejection letter telling her 'you have the wrong body for ballet', went viral.

It seems a number of companies are starting to work out that celebrating women is the best way to appeal to women; and money talks, so perhaps more will follow. We just need to tackle those adverts that try to appeal to men by denigrating women. They seem to be rather more tenacious. Clinging on in that stagnating cesspool like limpets.

Like this writer? Follow her @JennyCornish.

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