Why Brands Need Feminism

Feminism could be described as something of a buzzword at the minute. It has made waves in politics, sport and celebrity, such as Emma Watson’s HeForShe United Nations speech, and Helen Mirren’s recent claims that there is “profound sexism” in the acting industry. It divides opinion across the board, but at its most basic definition, feminism is the agreement that women have been subject to certain injustices because of their gender, and that we should all (men included!) strive for equality.

According to a new study published by the State of the Youth Nation, most young consumers aged between 16 and 24 believe that advertising has the ability to empower women – if they are depicted in an inspirational manner.

With PR and marketing becoming an increasingly female-dominated environment, it is surprising that 65% of the respondents also believe that women in advertising are overly sexualized. Historically, it is true that sex sells. Equally, brands have been guilty of marketing predominantly to men, particularly in what are considered ‘male dominated’ areas such as cars, technology and alcohol, but the market is beginning to see a change. Global marketing director for Baileys Rosalind Healy recently revealed that she had an epiphany – “I’ve spent my entire career marketing to men. There is a whole consumer group called women that we haven’t spoken to.”

She isn’t the only one to have had this realisation, and we are currently seeing a huge rise in female empowerment advertising, affectionately dubbed “femvertising”. With females holding over 80% of purchasing power, it’s a smart move. If brands want to be successful, they need to jump on board with the rise of feminine power – particularly on social media. The top trending hashtags this year have stemmed from female empowerment, including #yesallwomen and the #banbossy campaign that was launched by Sheryl Sandburg, Condoleezza Rice and The Boss herself, Beyoncé.

The impact of these trends hasn’t been missed by brands: Sport England’s #thisgirlcan grassroots campaign has seen unprecedented success, and Always’ #likeagirl campaign has been viewed almost 60 million times on YouTube, challenging the insulting meaning of the phrase “like a girl”. Watching the video, it’s easy to forget that ultimately, Always is pushing a product. Creating emotive content actually makes marketing easier for brands: women are responsible for 63% of shares on social media, have more friends than male users and are much more interactive. By creating something that women want to share, you create multitudes of free advertising.

Source: @thisgirlcanUK

The work does not stop at giving a nine year old girl a soccer ball and creating an inspirational video, though. Consumers and the media are becoming much more interested in the internal ethics of a brand, and are choosing which products to buy based on issues such as the company’s stance on the pay gap, fair trade and equality in the workplace. The world’s most successful media-streaming company Netflix is an excellent example. In August, Netflix released unlimited parental leave policies (for both men and women) and on the same day, the company’s stock prices hit an all-time high. A law recently passed in UK Parliament means large companies will soon have to publish their gender pay gap.

It’s clear that feminism and the accompanying fight for equality is affecting consumers, companies and organisations across the board. By being aware of the current climate, PRs can help clients ensure that their brand and reputation are adapting to meet the changing needs of their market. With companies under this kind of public scrutiny, they need to not only jump on the feminist bandwagon, but stay on it.

Erin Stewart, Graduate Trainee