Faux-feminism and how we are being played by the brands


Faux-feminism and how we are being played by the brands

1.2K June 26, 2018
'Femertising' is now big business. Brands are increasingly taking advantage of the mobilisation of the millions championing women's issues. But are we being played, or does it even matter as long as the message is getting out there?
Some attribute it to growing celebrity awareness, the recent #MeToo movement, or the women's pink marches (why are we still defining ourselves by bubblegum pink?) after President Trump got elected, but either way, the era of chauvinism being socially accepted without question is on its way out. And no one understands that more than brands. Adland has fallen in love with the concept of activism and getting behind a cause. In fact, the entire advertising industry has found themselves 'having a moment'. The danger is, of course, that such marketplace feminism is stealing the limelight from real female-driven issues. 
Dove was one of the first brands to understand that women were no longer buying into becoming aspirational versions of themselves — they were seeking truth and real stories and seemed to care about social conscious. The Real Women (aren't we ALL real?) campaign was born. Ditto for feminine hygiene brand, Always. Their #LikeAGirl campaign encouraged us to throw off the stereotypical barriers of our gender and to embrace everything that makes women great. They started selling us back our confidence and strength and we lapped it up as quickly as they raked it in. 
H&M's fashion collaboration saw denim jackets emblazoned with the badass slogan 'Cats against catcalling' — a nod to the everyday sexism experienced by many. Many applauded this bold fashion statement but let's not forget that clothes are commodities that teen girls are spending their pocket money on and one can't help wondering if this was a symbol of feminism and progress or just a really good way to sell products? 
We've seen this before. Brands jumping on the bandwagon with a message that is more opportunistic than altruistic. It even has a name — mission marketing. Poor old Kendall Jenner was hung out to dry when Pepsi's Live For Now campaign launched last year. Jenner played a model (shock) who ditches a shoot, mid-lipstick to lead a rally protesting for a Very Important Cause. The problem was that Pepsi never explained what that cause was, they never actually committed to this social awareness and ultimately the campaign was pulled because it fell so flat. People saw it for what it really was- a commodification of protest imagery for financial gain and a total disconnection to their audience.
Marketers know that women have most of the spending power. A recent report by Goldman Sachs shows that women influence up to 80% of consumer spending. Over 70% of us identify ourselves as the main shoppers in our households. It also found that over a lifetime, the average US woman spends about €120,000 on clothes, accessories and beauty products (and if you saw my wardrobe, you would know it is the same here too).
In an interview with the Telegraph, marketing expert, Karen Blacknet agrees. She believes we need to reach a place where the 'women's angle' isn't so blatant. «We need to see a move away from 'feminist ads' to a place where all adverts have an inherently female viewpoint. We need to normalise the experience of being a woman in advertising.»
Of course, many of us buy into it because it makes us feel good. We like to show our support by wearing t-shirts with social messages and to buy products that boost our self-esteem; to fit in, to stand out; to make a statement, to express creativity — nothing wrong with that. But, as the consumer, you are representing the moment when activism meets capitalism and they are not always compatible. Which came first, the movement or the t-shirt about the movement?
The problem too is that often it comes across as completely contrived. Like when Karl Lagerfeld sent his models down the runway during the Spring Summer 15 catwalk holding signs that read 'feminist but feminine.' It was hard not to cringe. Similarly, it is hard to see how having soft Dove-moisturised skin is going to further global equality so maybe we need to stop pretending that it will. 
The hard sell has been pinkwashed, and the question is, do we care that many of these brands are exploiting our insecurities in the guise of social improvement? Are we too caught up in all the heartwarming, community spirit of it all to realise we are still being sold to? Maybe none of that matters as long as we are speaking the language of body positivity, activism and women's rights. But the idea of putting those ideas into the marketplace and selling them off still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. 
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About me

I'm a writer and mum to three adventure-loving cuties. I enjoy trying to show my family as much of the world as possible in-between the school runs and writing about our latest adventure.