Advertising for Equality

  • Date 8th March 2017
  • Author Susanna Kass
Advertising for Equality

International Women’s Day is a great annual reminder to pause and sense check our society, ourselves and not least our industry. Advertising agencies have struggled to shake off the boys club stigma and continues, with some success, to take positive steps in a more vocally gender balanced ambition. Why should this matter? 

Reflecting on Stacy Smith’s recent talk on Ted about gender representation in Hollywood, there are similarities we, in the marketing and advertising industry, should be conscious of. 

We too tell stories that capture and share a portrayal of what society values. In this role, we’ve been criticised of creating unrealistic body image expectations for women; we’ve been guilty of enforcing gender stereotyping behavioural norms on young children; we’ve devalued the power of women through hyper-sexualisation; and devalued their voices by sheer omission in many categories. And when we assess the body of advertising work intersectionally, the omission is deafening.

This is a harsh critique but a real imperative for continuing the drive for more women in leadership roles across agencies. Smith’s data shows that ‘female directors are associated with more girls and women on-screen, more stories with women in the center, more stories with women 40 years of age or older on-screen’; it is a reasonable leap to hope gender depiction will be more likely to match demographic reality should we engage more women in senior creative positions.

On a less pitch-forky note, the advertising industry I’ve just condemned for its role in society’s demise also has the power to do good. Through the medium of bite sized and freely accessible content, it is also uniquely positioned to create social change through storytelling.

Some great examples of this (with a focus on feminism) can be seen via these links:

The get-your-tissues-out list:

Ariel India 2016 #sharetheload


Yes, ok it’s a bit cheesy but considering the cultural environment it’s launched in, I think it’s pretty great. We need to remind ourselves that we are still a relatively new in establishing equality as a cultural norm. Many of us still grew up in households where our dads were the primary breadwinners and our mums the caregivers – and if you look one generation before that to our grandparents, the evident shift has been dramatic. As our kids grow up, the norms they absorb embed in their subconscious. And this will take time to shift. I like that this narrative suggests a place to start with simple, small gestures, making the campaign at once a grand emotional statement and a tangible catalyst for action. 

Always 2015 #LikeAGirl 


This is the first in a series of ads by Always that sets out to empower teenage girls as they grapple with identity establishment and puberty. The campaign was heavily awarded backed with brilliant results in mindset shifts. What I particularly like about this direction (and their subsequent executions) is its casting – the personalities are both raw, vulnerable and strong – and the insight: that words matter. That a seemingly innocuous phrase most of us don’t even register as offensive, can quietly seep into public consciousness and corrode confidence.

The get-your-picket-out list:

Pantene Philippines 2013 #Whipit

So true. And what’s worse is that women are equally (if not more) inclined to judge other women with these labels - as frustrated as we are by them. I’m not entirely sure the payoff matches the cause in this case (read: don’t be labelled but make sure your hair is shiny), however as far as calling out the elephant in the room, I think it conveys the story very succinctly.

Audi 2017 #DriveProgress

Audi’s Superbowl ad is interesting. Firstly because the automotive industry continues to be one of those categories trapped in time – on permanent machismo mode, despite the statistics demonstrating more women make car purchasing decisions.. So kudos to Audi for getting up on the big stage and addressing gender issues head on. Secondly, the ad has not veered away from speaking directly with their target audience (the high income earning 40-something Caucasian male), they’ve just recognized that some of these men may have daughters (genius!). I like this approach because I feel too often ads with a feminist angle target women and are therefore singing to the choir. We need more #heforshe bravery.

ANZ 2016 #EqualFuture 

Using the innocence of children is a time-tested storytelling method that effectively uses naivety to cut through issues we grown-ups have normalised with age. Where this ad works for me is that it makes you reflect on the inequity women are impacted by today, but also the sheer, tragic unfairness through the lens of the younger generations who will grow up to inherit these issues if we don’t act to change them. And, like the Audi and Always ads, I like that they have recruited boys (and men) to the cause too!

The get-your-joy-on list:

Sport England 2015 #ThisGirlCan


A great initiative run by Sport England to break the expectations girls limit themselves with “we want to help women overcome the fear of judgement that is stopping too many women and girls from joining in”. This campaign feels lighthearted, fun, dynamic and is entirely devoid of sympathy-fishing. 

The latest release (2017) is equally powerful.

The be-the-change list:

Secret Deodorant 2016 #StressTest

 I love this one. It’s quirky, simple, not overly emotional. I can see this nailing it with a younger female audience and sends a great message of backing each other and being the change you want to see. In fact, the whole range of ‘Secret’ Deodorant’ ads are great. I’ll throw in a couple more I particularly (and fellow marketers) can relate to:

This is not a comprehensive collection, just examples that have jumped out at me in recent years - I’d love to hear from you if I’ve missed any other great examples. I hope that by sharing these great examples we can all be inspired to apply ourselves in the name of social change and continue to bridge the gap through our craft and our role as cultural citizens.

Better input always leads to greater outcomes

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