The marketing and advertising industries have historically been more about fantasy than reality, and female idealisation rather than empowerment.

Today, however, we’re seeing a sea-change in the way brands represent and market to women, fuelled by social and political movements.

There’s still work to be done, of course. That beach body campaign wasn’t all that long ago, was it? Luckily though, many brands are working hard to make it a distant memory.

Here’s 17 marketing campaigns that depict a positive message about women.

(And remember, Econsultancy offers training and a whole range of market insight reports and best practice guides)

1. Smirnoff and Spotify – The Equaliser

In 2018, Smirnoff backed a campaign to get more people listening to women. It was based on data from Spotify that showed none of the top 10 most-streamed tracks in 2017 were performed by female artists or bands.

It created ‘the Smirnoff Equaliser’ – an API that analysed user data to give them a percentage of the number of female and male artists they streamed on Spotify in the previous six months. It then offered an equalised playlist, made up of tracks by an even number of men and women.

Designed to tackle gender bias in the music industry, and promote the creative talent of both women and men – it was a shrewd partnership by two big name brands.

2. H&M – She’s a lady

In 2016, H&M created a splash on social media with its stereotype-smashing campaign, She’s A Lady. Encouraging women to be fierce and fearless with their fashion choices rather than typically ‘ladylike’, the campaign was designed to break down gender norms and encourage self-expression.

The advert was particularly applauded for speaking about fashion in this context, instead of the standard focus on consumerism.

3. Women’s Aid – interactive digital billboards

Domestic abuse charity Women’s Aid used experiential marketing to make people stop and take notice of the issue in a Masters of Marketing award-winning campaign in 2016.

It put up interactive out-of-home (OOH) ads featuring a picture of a beaten and bruised woman.

The more people who stopped and looked at the poster, the more quickly the woman’s injuries would disappear.

Women's Aid interactive billboard

The campaign results:

  • Average time people spent looking at the posters was 349% higher than the previous average measured across the same sites.
  • 2,500% increase in people stopping to watch for more than 10 seconds.
  • PR reach of 326.9m people, with 70 broadcasters, newspapers and online portals covering the campaign.
  • Media companies from all quarters of the consumer press – from Mashable and Upworthy to The Telegraph, Time Out and Huffington Post – ran the story.
  • Coverage in 20 countries, from Australia to Russia, with prime-time bulletins on American news stations NBC, CBS and ABC.
  • 86.7m impressions on Twitter alone.

4. Always – Keep Going

Following on from Always’ groundbreaking #LikeAGirl campaign in 2014, the brand has continued its quest to instil confidence in women and girls.

In 2017, its #KeepGoing campaign aimed to overturn the negative associations of failure, helping girls to see that it can actually fuel ambition, confidence, and success.

In 2018, Always also launched a new initiative in the UK called #EndPeriodPoverty, with the brand donating products and a portion of sales to schools in need.

5. Fanpage.it – Slap Her

From 2015 – another video highlighting the absurdity of violence against women, in which the filmmakers put young boys in front of young girls and ask the boys to slap the girls.

The boys’ reactions highlight how violence against women is not something natural but rather a learned behaviour.

6. Dove – Real Beauty

There is an enormous amount of pressure on women to look a certain way, thanks in no small part to the way marketing and advertising has portrayed them over the years.

As a result, many women have an unjustifiably low opinion of the way they look.

Dove attempted to highlight this issue in this emotional video campaign from 2013, showing women the stark difference between two drawings of themselves – one they created and another drawn by a forensic artist specially trained to produce realistic portraits of people.

7. Dove – Speak Is Beautiful

Dove continued the theme of negative self-image in women with this powerful visual piece in 2016.

The video shows a number of tweets from women making negative comments about their looks or their body, and suggests a simple way we can change the discourse.

Why women are talking about H&M’s latest ad campaign 

8. Western Union – #TheRaceIsOn

In 2017, Western Union marked International Women’s Day with a campaign that celebrates the role education plays in helping girls achieve their goals.

Created by mcgarrybowen, the campaign video depicts a number of girls from around the world running to school in the morning. The narrative suggests that they are running towards future goals, such as becoming the first women president, the first woman on the moon, or the first person on Mars.

As well as highlighting the bank’s female-heavy customer base, the campaign was also to announce the expansion of the Western Union Foundations’ ‘Education for Better’ initiative, which now involves the goal of equipping 50,000 women and young people with 21st century job skills by 2020.

9. Cardstore – World’s Toughest Job

This clip from 2015 is cleverly done, and it’s one for anybody who looks down on women who choose to stay at home and raise their family (not sure why you would, but some people are just weird).

I’m sure you’ve all seen it already, and I hope you have because I totally just spoiled the twist.

10. FCKH8 – Potty Mouthed Princesses Dropping F-Bombs For Feminism

Don’t watch this if you’re not keen on swearing, or small children swearing in particular, although you should probably just watch it anyway because it carries a strong message.

The idea is that people watching it will be more shocked by a kid saying the F-word than statistics highlighting massive gender inequality.

11. Sport England – This Girl Can

Can’t argue with this one. Upbeat compilation of women flat-out smashing it in a variety of sports.

The 2015 campaign was designed to encourage women to exercise without fear of judgement, and is also reflective of the rise in female sports stars in recent years.

12. Microsoft – #MakeWhatsNext

The lack of women going into STEM subjects is a serious issue, particularly when there is a looming skills shortage in those industries.

Following on from its Girls Do Science campaign in 2015, the #MakeWhatsNext campaign from 2017 continues the brand’s mission to encourage girls to study science, maths, engineering, and technology.

The campaign video sees a number of girls talking about the problems they are most passionate about solving, including breast cancer and world water supply. With these issues impossible to solve without science, the girls express their ambition to pursue a career in their chosen fields.

13. Gisele Bündchen– I Will What I Want

This 2014 video shows the comments model Gisele Bündchen received in real-time as she punched and kicked a punching bag.

The comments appear on the walls around her, and as you can see the majority are pretty derogatory.

14. My Pale Skin – You Look Disgusting

You could argue that influencers invite attention as part of their job, but nobody deserves the kind of comments Em, AKA YouTube star My Pale Skin, received when she showed her face without makeup and revealed her acne.

This 2015 video is clever in the fact that it shows the transition between the comments people made when Em had no makeup on and the very different comments she received when she did have it on.

15. Mercy Academy – Not a Princess

I have told my wife repeatedly and only half-jokingly that if we ever have a daughter I am imposing a strict ban on all princess-related items (I know, what a killjoy).

Whether I win that argument or not remains to be seen, but this video certainly highlights my point.

The 2013 campaign from a Kentucky all-female Catholic school urged girls to forget the whole princess thing and prepare for real life instead. Powerful stuff.

mercy academy not a princess campaign
mercy academy not a princess campaign
mercy academy not a princess campaign

16. Pantene – Labels Against Women

This 2013 clip from Pantene in the Philippines highlights how a man and a woman performing the same action can be viewed in two completely different ways.

The campaign is particularly focused on the workplace, where a strong female leader might be viewed as ‘bossy’ whereas the male equivalent would likely never be given that label.

17. Goldieblox – Princess Machine

Another attack on the awful princess thing, this time from GoldieBlox in 2013 – a company that makes toys and games designed to develop girls’ interest in engineering and problem-solving.

The video depicts a ‘princess machine’ built by a team of young girls using a range of engineering principles.

What have I missed?

These were the campaign that sprang to mind when I was writing this post, but let me know of any good ones I’ve missed in the comments below.

Five social media campaigns celebrating women across the globe