Feminism & Advertising

We’ve all seen “femvertising” first-hand. It’s when marketers sprinkle a feminist narrative into their client’s advertising to flavor what they’re hoping you’ll consume. It’s selling #empowerment to women and minorities as individuals when they long for systemic, political change.

A great example is the Dove “Real Beauty” campaign. Starting in 2004, this campaign was designed to inspire confidence in women of all shapes, sizes, and colors…and to sell a lot of soap. And they aren’t alone! Big brands like H&M, Secret, Nike, and more are seizing the opportunity for niche marketing through feminism and are creating their own campaigns.

On the surface, increased exposure to the feminist movement through media is exciting. We’re seeing more equal representation in the media than ever before. But here’s the question we marketers need to ask ourselves: does feminism benefit from themed marketing campaigns or are we capitalizing on feminism?

Niche marketing is highly profitable but generally isn’t successful if the brand isn’t a genuine part of the niche. There is a difference between telling a feminist story and appropriating feminist ideals for capital gain. (Fun fact: many feminists openly reject the structure of a capitalist society, but that’s a whole other blog for another time.)

When I first saw this commercial for H&M,  I loved every second of it. I was ready to share it on my social feeds and caption it #GirlPower. But then it hit me, I was their exact target audience, and H&M was not the feminist company I was waiting for. Merriam Webster defines feminism as “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.” So, here’s the problem: fast fashion companies like H&M employ economically vulnerable women, and children overseas to work for little money in unsafe factories to create their clothing. The collapse of H&M’s Bangladesh factory in 2013 is considered the deadliest structural failure of modern history with a death toll of over 1,100 people. That doesn’t sound very feminist in my book.

Going back to Dove, their “Real Beauty” campaign means nothing when you remember their parent company (Unilever) also makes the sexist Axe ads. Yeah, feel like you got punched in the gut? Me too. Using current trends in marketing campaigns is smart, but it’s also risky for this exact reason.

As a marketer myself, I know we take pride in promoting wholesome ideas, and we generally hope to make a difference. However, we need to consider whether the story we’re telling is genuinely aligned with that of our client and not just what’s #trending. If your message isn’t genuine, it simply won’t work.

Meet Sarah M. Wagner

Hello! I am O’Keeffe’s new PR and Digital Marketing Intern. I am a 2018 graduate of the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University, and excited to pursue a career in communications. Although a journalism major on paper, I was lured by the grandiose idea of writing with creativity into the world of public relations. This is my second internship after graduation, the first being social media focused. I aim to learn as much as possible about PR and digital marketing outside of school to prepare myself for a life-long career.

Why did you choose this industry?   

PR is where impartial, journalistic writing meets the creative world of storytelling. When choosing a career, I thought I had to pick between being a broke novelist striving to get published and a no-nonsense (also broke) journalist. I’ve never been happier to be wrong as I can now combine my passion for both forms of writing.

What advice would you give to someone trying to break into the industry?   

Don’t just build a portfolio, be passionate about the work you put into it. Whether you show your work to a potential client or an agency you hope to work for, they want to see your best work and drive to do more of it. If you aren’t passionate about what you’re doing, it isn’t worth it.

Tell me your favorite metric to track.

I am fascinated by strategic social media. I completed a social media certificate at my alma mater. When tracking social success as a marketer, I love finding the number of engagements a post receives – particularly shares. Shares mean people liked a client’s content so much they wished to show it to their friends and family. I believe there is no higher compliment to any brand online.

What’s the last book you read? 

I am currently reading Dan’s copy of This is Marketing by Seth Godin. The lovely Megan Smale suggested that the entire O’Keeffe tribe read it just before I joined the herd. I should probably get a move-on so Dan can read it too!

Favorite word? 


Least favorite word? 

Cramped. Oof, my claustrophobia is kicking in, I feel trapped already. Help!

What profession other than PR would you like to attempt? 

A theatrical property and craft maker/manager. I know what you’re thinking, that was wildly specific, but doesn’t it sound awesome?

What’s the best thing about our line of work? 

Being able to make a difference. Bringing a client’s story to life can change everything for them. The joy of helping a client/brand you love grow is highly contagious.

Tell me two truths and a lie.

I’ve been hang-gliding. I held the same baseball bat as Joey Votto. I’ve been to Slovenia.