International Women’s Day provides brands and society a chance to shine a light on gender inequality, female role models and global issues impacting women.
But the social, political and economic equality of the sexes mustn't be boiled down to a bit of pink-washing once yearly. Yet, for some brands, IWD has notably become a catalyst for tokenistic "femvertising".
In adland, there is hope. The Advertising Standards Authority has been clamping down on ads that objectify women, while beauty brands such as Pantene are better representing women, instead of selling an unattainable idea of perfection.
So Campaign is blocking out the #IWD noise to look at the best examples of legitimate year-round efforts to champion women, smash gender stereotypes and challenge gender norms.
Pantene normalises grey hair
Pantene is encouraging women to embrace their natural grey hair. "#PowerofGrey", created by Grey London, features naturally grey-haired women questioning entrenched beliefs and associations about going grey. On its website, the Procter & Gamble brand says of the movement: "The more we see grey hair, the more we see its beauty."
Women drink beer too – cheers to that
Heineken is challenging the deep-rooted notion that beer is predominantly a drink for men with a global campaign, "Cheers to all", created by Publicis Italy.
Calling out gender stereotypes, the spot shows various waiters – without asking – serving beer to men and cocktails to women.
Love your body, Hearst says
Hearst launched its Project Body Love initiative last year. It aims to change the negative way women and girls think, feel and speak about their bodies and includes research, e-learning books and a video series.
Dove thinks there’s no 'normal' armpit
Too hairy, too dark or too bumpy: women's underarms have had bad press.
Dove found that eight out of 10 women feel pressured into conforming to the notion of an "ideal" underarm – an expectation that negatively impacts their self-esteem. So the Unilever brand teamed with Ogilvy to smash armpit stereotypes with "#Armsup" – an "armpit anthem".
As part of an ethical adtech trail, every time an Instagram user watched the ad until the end and selected either UN Women or the local Dove Self-Esteem Project, Unilever donated to that chosen charity.
Five years on, this girl still can
FCB Inferno's "This girl can" has been empowering women to get physically active for five years, with Sport England claiming that it has inspired three million women to get fit in that time.
Its latest campaign tackles subjects such as motherhood, periods, menopause, LGBT+ and disability inclusion, which can hold women back from being regularly active. The ad shows what maintaining a healthy lifestyle really looks like, offering a realistic countermeasure to fitness influencers on social media.
It was written by Sarah Lefkowith, art directed by Nicole Chen and directed by Ali Kurr through Partizan.
NatWest is banking on businesswomen
NatWest is helping female-led start-ups amplify their marketing by giving three fledgling entrepreneurs £55,000 each in production and media spend. As part of its Back Her Business programme, NatWest has created ads for three brands that had previously relied on word-of-mouth marketing.
They carry the slogan: "This was going to be an ad for NatWest Back Her Business. But we thought we’d advertise her business instead."
Squarespace shares black female founders’ stories
Squarespace is sharing the inspiring stories of black female entrepreneurs and how they utilise Squarespace to reach out to their communities to inspire future entrepreneurs and tackle the lack of representation in this space.
Created with WePresent, the four-episode series features Liv Little, founder of gal-dem; Sharmadean Reid, chief executive of Beautystack and founder of Wah Nails and FutureGirlCorp; Jade Purple Brown, a freelance visual artist; and Holley M Kholi-Murchison, founder of Oratory Glory.
Bad sex should be a thing of the past
Durex is normalising good sex for women as well as men. The 91-year-old brand is challenging sexual taboos, stigmas and outdated attitudes in favour of more positive and inclusive ones about sex. Its latest work reveals the realities of sex for ladies, with lines such as: "We’re faking it. Two out of three of us are not fully satisfied with our sex lives."
The condom brand has previously destigmatised lubrication in another spot by Havas London that challenged why women "still put up with uncomfortable sex".
Barbie increases representation
When it comes to empowerment, Barbie has seriously upped its game and is a far cry from the underweight and sexist doll it once was.
Mattel has overhauled the collection to focus on a more diverse and aspirational range of dolls. Today, this includes multiple careers – including an astrophysicist, builder and political candidate – as well as more physically diverse dolls featuring different skin tones, hair fibres, body sizes and types, including a wheelchair user.
There is 'no room for clichés', RAF says
"Women should be defined by actions, not clichés," the Royal Air Force says in its ad by Engine. The spot, which was picked by Channel 4 as a Diversity in Advertising Award winner, challenges the stereotyped way in which women are often portrayed, with satirical lines such as: "Strong, healthy hair, what’s my secret?"
Nike is telling women to 'dream crazier'
In the follow-up to the sensational "Dream crazy" ad starring Colin Kaepernick, tennis legend Serena Williams calls out the double standards around how female athletes (and women generally) are described when showing emotion. The inspirational spot by Wieden & Kennedy Portland ends with: "If they want to call you crazy, fine. Show them what crazy can do."
Mothercare is keeping it real
If you scroll through edited picture-perfect feeds of new mums online, you’d be forgiven for thinking that bodies miraculously bounce back to their original shape and size days after giving birth. Mothercare promotes what real, confident and unfiltered post-birth bodies look like in "Body proud mums" by Mcgarrybowen.
Bumble calls on women to make the first move
Dating app Bumble also enlisted the help of Serena Williams for its Super Bowl spot, "The ball is in her court". The 30-second ad by FlyteVu and VMLY&R challenges traditions, urging women to "own their power" and "to know that they don't have to wait for permission" in their relationships or career.
Holland & Barrett is breaking the silence surrounding the menopause
In an effort to end stereotypes around the "last taboo", the health retailer launched "Me.No.Pause", which depicts the lives of real women experiencing the menopause. The campaign, created by Pablo London, won a competition to increase diversity in advertising across London’s transport network. Voiced by actress Sally Phillips, the work reassures women not to let the symptoms such as mood swings define them.
Bodyform champions vulvas of all shapes and sizes
In an age when many women are succumbing to societal pressures and going under the knife to reduce the size of their labia, Bodyform is normalising genitals in "Viva la vulva". The multi-award-winning three-minute film by Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO celebrates the uniqueness of one's private parts by showing objects resembling vulvas, such as shells and grapefruit, singing along to Take Yo' Praise.