Leaders in Retail

Feminism Through The Lens Of Brands5 min read

March 20, 2019 4 min read

Feminism Through The Lens Of Brands5 min read

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ commercial, which was unveiled at the Oscars 2019, pulled at the heartstrings of the viewers. Narrated by Serena Williams, it starts with the lines, “If we show emotions, we are called dramatic”, followed by “When we stand for something, we’re unhinged. When we’re too good, there’s something wrong with us.  And if we get angry, we’re hysterical, irrational, or just being crazy.” It features many women sports personalities like multiple times Olympics gold medal winner Simone Biles, and South African runner Caster Semenya, besides Williams herself. It exposes the double standards they face and the gender barriers they have to break.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=whpJ19RJ4JY

The ad evoked a strong reaction across all media platforms and is considered as one of the most powerful films made by a brand where the social commentary was at the centre stage and authentic.

Feminism And Ethics Of Brand Communication

Nike is one of the many brands helping to shape the global narrative on feminism. By showing women’s struggles, highlighting the prejudices and challenging the implicit bias without sugar-coating it, the American MNC in emerging as a brand with a conscience.

The ‘Dream Crazier’ campaign reminds us of the controversial September 2018 US Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. The incident sparked a debate about sexism and racism in tennis and the sports industry, in general. Williams has been at the receiving end of unjust treatment throughout her career. From being scrutinized for how she looks to being barred from wearing a dress for no apparent reason, from being called hysterical to being labelled as a difficult person, the multiple Grand Slam winner has been subjected to discrimination. And Nike underlined all this in bold letters in its ad, which is rare of brands to do.

Nike has been criticized in the past for using women and feminism as a marketing strategy. But of late the brand has stepped up in a big way when it comes to standing up for social issues and picking a clear lane without being ambiguous. Their widely popular anniversary special Dream Crazy campaign with Colin Kaepernick is one such example.

While Nike is using its huge platform to raise awareness about the feminist movement, there are brands like Billie that is reclaiming the female body by shattering the unrealistic and absurd standards of beauty set by society. In a first, Billie, a subscription-based ‘women first’ shaving company became the only brand to show body hair in its ad. When other razor brands feature women shaving hairless legs (which isn’t the case with men razor brands), Billie broke a taboo that has liberated many women. The brand believes in celebrating all women – the ones who shave and ones who don’t. Their main goal is normalize body hair.

“We would never dictate what they should do, especially when it comes to personal grooming habits… Many female razor brands have historically ignored female body hair by always showing glossy, hairless legs in their ads. It felt like an archaic way of communicating with women and we’re proud to celebrate body hair and reinforce that shaving is a choice, not an expectation,” shared Billie’s co-founder Georgina Gooley.

Bodyform’s is another brand, which is working towards breaking a taboo that haunts young girls and women across the world. UK’s sanitary pad brand Bodyform is the first company that used red liquid instead of blue in its ad to break the ‘period taboo’ and floated the hashtag #BloodNormal. It highlights that feminism is as much about actively promoting realistic depictions of things like body hair, freckles, cellulite, and menstruation as it is about empowerment, pay parity, equal opportunities and celebrating big achievements.

With A Hint Of Sexism

The brands mentioned above reflect the state of the feminist movement in Western society. However, in countries like China, India, Spain, and Korea, the wave of feminism has just started to pick up pace. The current generation of women are caught between two distinct worlds – traditional and modern. They are finding it difficult to find a balance between the two worlds. On one hand we see the traditional roles being challenged as the demand for equal opportunities rises; on the other hand we see resistance to social change because it would shift the dynamics of gender and power.

As a result, companies are still figuring out how to infuse feminism in their brand communication without alienating consumers. Government policies along with public backlash are two dominant fears of brands operating in countries like China.

Joyce Ling, Greater China Chief Strategy Officer at J. Walter Thompson explained, “The way Chinese culture is accepting a more active female role in society is still progressing, it’s a process, [so] it might be scary for brands to step too far. Brands are always sensitive about having anything to do with social movements [in China] because it’s hard to predict what the government will react to … but female empowerment is really being encouraged now in the business world with the tacit approval of the government and this will encourage brands to be more courageous.”

This is the reason why a large section of brands (excluding a few) in these countries treat feminism as the ‘current hot topic to cash in on’ and hence fail as they rely on tired tropes without really putting much thought into it. They devise ‘feminist’ campaigns that often reek of sexism and demonstrate a deep lack of understanding.

Brands shouldn’t treat feminism as a temporary wave or a marketing tool, but instead focus on becoming a strong ally. It is out in the open that companies that cater to women but fail to embrace and respect women of all kinds would witness a drop in business. 

Feminism is a movement that carries its allies along with it – and it is evident from the brands that are leading the way.

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