This is a post by Inez Zimakowski

Gilette’s ‘We Believe’ ad has been a hot topic of conversation in our office, as I presume it has in many of yours. Some of us were fans, some were not, with many on the ‘not’ side citing the brand’s own messy past in perpetuating gender stereotypes. 

It’s true that Gilette was one of the first brands to condemn women’s body hair, and they proudly showcased the rugged male image in all their advertising. But why does that mean they can’t change their messaging? 

Whether Gilette was right or wrong in their approach is certainly up for debate, highlighting the very grey area we’re working in at the moment. Which brands can play in the empowerment space, and which can’t? Let’s open up the conversation by looking at some brands that have done it well – and we don’t have to look any further than the 2019 Super Bowl commercials. With a long history of objectifying women and glorifying male stereotypes, this year’s Super Bowl ads had a distinctly different flavour. It seems no one wanted to put bikini-clad babes on screen in 2019…

Now and then

In 2018, only 34 per cent of ads featured a strong female lead, but in 2019 that number doubled, with powerful females front and centre. Beyond sheer representation, a fair few ads unabashedly promoted women’s empowerment, and while Gilette didn’t dare air their ‘We Believe’ commercial, parent company Procter & Gamble did put forward a spot for Olay, featuring vampire-slaying extraordinaire Sarah Michelle Gellar. 

The Super Bowl may seem like an odd place to promote women, given the NFL has a largely male audience according to Nielsen data. But, the Super Bowl is one of the biggest events in the US every year, and Super Bowl Sunday viewership is evenly split between male and female, unlike the rest of the season. Given 100 million Americans tune in every year, the $5 million investment in mass reach makes sense in a market that has become incredibly fragmented.

So who did it the best? Let’s have a look at the top three.


#InHerCourt with Bumble

Bumble’s #InHerCourt ad features Serena Williams, undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes of our time and a prominent champion of women’s rights. The company has always been female focused, allowing women to make the first move in dating in the hopes of avoiding Tinder’s creep-fest. The end frame ‘Women, the ball is in your court’, is timely, relevant to the talent and the brand, and references the age-old saying. The spot is inspiring without being condescending or instructional, and one Gilette could learn from.

The world will tell you that you're not strong enough to play. They’ll tell you that your story doesn’t matter. And to wait to be given power. But here's what the world won’t tell you... #InHerCourt @serenawilliams

— Bumble (@bumble) February 4, 2019




Changing directions with Stella Artois

If you’ve ever seen a Super Bowl beer ad, you’ll know just how different the 2019 ones are. Instead of scantily clad supermodels, Stella Artois went for nostalgia mixed with changing directions – focusing on the increasing representation of women in beer. The spot featured Sarah Jessica Parker reprising her role as Sex and the City’sCarrie Bradshaw and Jeff Bridges as ‘The Dude’ from The Big Lebowski. Rather than their classic drink orders of a Cosmopolitan and White Russian, both order a Stella Artois, with Bridges finishing off the spot with this great line: ‘changing can do a little good’. It’s a simple but effective message that puts stereotyping on the spot and indicates greater change without any virtue signalling from the brand.




Defying expectations with Toyota

Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid ad actually brought a tear to my eye. Which is odd because it’s an ad for a car. But the monologue struck a chord with me, as I suspect it did with many women. I don’t know any girls or women who haven’t been told that they aren’t as strong, aren’t as fast, or aren’t as capable as men. So Toni’s story resonated. It’s relatable and for a Super Bowl ad, incredibly relevant. For those who don’t know, Toni Harris was the first woman to receive a full college scholarship for football, and has dreams of playing in the NFL, no doubt one day winning her own Super Bowl ring. She defies expectations and stereotypes, and is an incredible role model for young girls everywhere. 

The Toyota ad was my favourite female-focused spot for a number of reasons, but the biggest one was the ‘defying expectations’ product tie in. There has long been a perceived performance loss in hybrid vehicles, so the message works. Beyond that, the product features prominently so you never forget what the ad is for, unlike Bumble’s spot.

Final word

For a little bonus content, I would urge you to check out Pampers’ ad as well. It’s not about women’s empowerment, but it’s an amazing piece showcasing the modern dad, and the new split of parenting duties (and doodies). I give it 10/10 on the harmonising, too.