‘Always’ advert sparks gender equality debate

A powerful new campaign by the feminine hygiene brand challenges the negative phrase ‘like a girl’ and has gone viral. Can adverts inspire feminism and help stamp out sexism in society?

In a large studio, men and women stand in front of a camera and are each asked to run, throw and fight ‘like a girl’. Immediately, their arms flap hopelessly by their sides, they flail around making weak, pathetic movements, and agonise about their hair.

Then a group of young girls, no older than 10 or 11, are asked to do the same things ‘like a girl’. Unfazed, they run fast, jump high, and make powerful jabs at the camera, uninhibited and unaware that the phrase means anything other than to perform the actions to the best of their ability.

The video forms part of a new advertising campaign by the feminine hygiene brand Always. The advert asks us to consider why the expression – to do something ‘like a girl’ – has become an insult; one that insinuates that girls are less able than boys. The video has gone viral, gaining more than 17 million views on YouTube in less than a week.

But it has divided opinion. While many describe it as poignant and revealing, others are less impressed; ‘Shamelessly emotionally exploitative,’ declared the Daily Beast. Critics say the advert is nothing more than consumer capitalism masquerading as feminism.

Using female empowerment to sell products is nothing new. In the 1960s, a cigarette company targeted a brand called Virginia Slims specifically at women. Its tagline, ‘you’ve come a long way, baby’, directly linked smoking to women’s emancipation and caused a marketing sensation.

More recently Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, which stresses that all body shapes and sizes should be accepted, became one of the most popular campaigns of recent times and won a plethora of awards. Soon, other companies were following suit. The shampoo brand Pantene’s ‘shine strong’ campaign, in which women are urged to stop apologising, is another recent, high-profile example.

But do adverts like these really inspire gender equality?

Selling out?

Good on Always, some say, for trying to raise young girls’ self-esteem. The adverts are clever, effective and moving, and in a society where sexism is common and there is increasing pressure on young people to worry about their body image, these feel-good messages are a positive force and can change people’s attitudes. Adverts like these are proof that feminism is powerful and important and cannot be ignored.

But others say these messages and taglines are nothing more than cynical ploys to get women to part with their money. As one critic wrote: ‘Giving women one-liners and happy endings (and shiny hair) will not solve the problem of workplace gender roles, body image or domestic inequality.’ It is patronising, some argue, to assume that all women are the same: insecure, and easily duped by an advert.

You Decide

  1. Are adverts which promote gender equality patronising or important?
  2. Is feminism something that only concerns women?

Activities

  1. In groups, choose a product and put together a pitch to advertise it, including sketches, slogans, themes and music. Present a storyboard of your idea to the class.
  2. Create a timeline of adverts, displaying some of the earliest examples and more modern day commercials. What has changed over time? What has stayed the same?

Some People Say...

“Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things.’David Ogilvy”

What do you think?

Q & A

I’m not influenced by advertising — this story doesn’t affect me.
Are you sure? Advertising is everywhere and the average British viewer now sees 48 TV commercials a day. Adverts have the power to change habits and spark trends. So ubiquitous are they that we often forget to consider or challenge their underlying message. Gender equality is very important and concerns us all; we should make sure that adverts are contributing to the discussion in a positive way.
So does advertising work?
Earlier this year, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport reported that the UK creative industries are worth £71.4 billion a year and regularly outperform other industries. Every £1 spent in the sector delivers a £6 boost to the economy – proof that advertising works and is very lucrative.

Word Watch

Always
Last May, Always and its parent company, Procter & Gamble, surveyed 1,300 American women between the ages of 16 and 24 years old. They discovered that 89% agreed that the phrase ‘like a girl’ can be incredibly harmful for self-confidence. Only 19% had a positive association with the words, and more than half (57%) felt there should be a movement to change the negative perception of the phrase.
Virginia Slims
Incredibly the slimline cigarettes, closely associated with glamour and freedom, also sponsored the Women’s Tennis Association Tour. The adverts are sometimes credited for the growth and success of women’s tennis during the 1970s and early 1980s.
Dove
Critics of the campaign have argued that Dove’s parent company, Unilever, uses advertising that contradicts the Dove sentiment for some of its other brands, among them Lynx, Axe and Slim Fast diet bars, and the company has been accused of hypocrisy.
Sexism
Veet, the hair removal cream brand, was forced to pull its adverts earlier this year after their ‘don’t risk dudeness’ campaign was accused of body-shaming.

Subjects

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.