Feminism Sells: Helpful Or Harmful?

As brands are becoming more culturally aware, more empathetic advertisements have appeared in the media. Recently, there was a notable Dove campaign that received negative reviews, mostly in the form of tweets. This may surprise some of the advertising community, because Dove is known for its revolutionary body-positive content.

Source: Today

Dove’s “Real Beauty” Campaign featured its classic body wash in different shaped bottles representative of the variation of body sizes of women and men; mostly targeting women. The campaign is no longer available on Dove’s website, but screen captures of the two-week old spread still haunt the web.

Accompanying the diverse bottles were descriptions of each shape, complete with a name to identify with. It appears these personas were meant to appeal to those that are insecure about their body and empower them to embrace what they have.

Source: Viral Thread

The public was quick to comment on these bottles, poking fun at Dove’s attempt to connect with their feminine market. Parodies can still be viewed on Twitter and Youtube.

Source: Bladed Thesis

Source: Business Insider

Some speculate that Dove was using feminism to market their product, but it seems to be working for the skin care line. According to Morning Consult (2017) and Fortune (2017), only a minuscule amount of consumers polled were offended by ‘Real Beauty’ to the point that they no longer want to purchase Dove products. A majority of viewers still prefer the classic bottle shape over “Real Beauty” bottles. Whether this campaign was ultimately helpful or harmful for the brand is still up in the air. Polls seem to point to helpful as media outlets are still buzzing about its impact.

Source: Morning Consult

There is no doubt Dove leverages feminism to convey it’s product, similar to a clothing line’s Fall 2016 collection debut.

Source: Glamour

Does H&M’s “She’s a Lady Ad” Ad come across as offensive by playing the subtle feminism card? As Dove experienced minor controversy shortly after releasing its campaign, there were also mixed reviews of H&M. Many audiences believed it was more empowering than offensive. Ad Week (2016) praised “She’s A Lady” for being authentic with a nod to agency Forsman & Bodenfors and trans actress Hari Nef. The message conveyed by this brand was women from all walks of life redefine the modern diverse woman (Glamour, 2016). According to Babe (2016), this company was discontinuing its plus size clothing and continues to employ refugees. Their identity doesn’t seem to nod towards their diverse message. Do you recall any other ads that use feminism to promote a brand?


Bamber, S. (2016). H&M’s ‘Lady’ campaign is hypocritical, not empowering. Babe. Retrieved from https://babe.net/2016/09/22/hms-lady-campaign-991

Farber, M. (2017, May 17). People still love Dove despite body-shaped bottle controversy, poll shows. Fortune. Retrieved from http://fortune.com/2017/05/17/dove-body-shaped-bottles-poll/

Logan, E. (2016, Sep. 16). Watch H&M’s stunning, relatable, subtly feminist new “she’s a lady” ad. Glamour. Retrieved from http://www.glamour.com/story/h-and-m-shes-a-lady-fall-2016-campaign

Monllos, K. (2016, Sep. 16). H&M’s stunning new ad subverts what you think a lady should look or act like. Adweek. Retrieved from http://www.adweek.com/creativity/hms-stunning-new-ad-subverts-what-you-think-lady-should-look-or-act-173487/

Nichols, L. (2017, May 17). Many still love Dove despite mixed reaction to body-shaped bottles. Morning Consult. Retrieved from https://morningconsult.com/2017/05/17/many-still-love-dove-brand-despite-mixed-reaction-body-shaped-bottles/



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3 Responses to Feminism Sells: Helpful Or Harmful?

  1. Araz says:

    Thank you for your post. Dove’s campaign is similar it the #LikeAGirl campaign that Always had created in 2014. It was primarily targeted for girls and to shed light in puberty education. In this concept, you can see the focus is on empowerment and girl unity.

    Here is the link of the campaign:

    Araz Kuvakian

  2. Jim Tanner says:

    Great post that raises a lot of interesting points. I think it’s very interesting that Dove’s campaign drew criticism on social media, despite the fact that it really echoed the marketing messaging the company has been espousing online.

    I question Dove’s wisdom for actually producing the bottles in various shapes to actually sell to the public, but really for logistical and financial reasons more than anything else. The image of the different bottles seem to get the message across without actually having to change the packaging.

    A recent ad campaign that used feminism was Audi’s “Daughter” commercial which ran during this year’s Super Bowl. The ad can be watched here: https://youtu.be/G6u10YPk_34

    The ad features a father worrying about his daughter’s future as she wins a soap box derby-style race. He expresses fear that she will face sexism and be valued less than males in her life. The ad ends with Audi expressing support for gender pay equity.

    The add faced criticism online, drawing a large number of negative comments on YouTube and other social media channels (Bruell 2017). Some of the backlash could have come from the fact that the Super Bowl draws viewers from across the political spectrum and any strong position on such a topic is going to draw positive and negative views.

    Another source of backlash was focused on Audi’s poor corporate record on gender issues, with no women on its executive team and below-average female representation on its board of directors (Kauflin 2017). In that context, an ad promoting gender equity and equal pay comes off as a disingenuous attempt to co-opt a cause to sell cars.

    For me, however, the main problem with the ad was that it was primarily depressing and too focused on negative issues in the voice over. There is a hopeful ending and the visuals show the young girl using her skills and intelligence to be successful. But the ad primarily has dark and depressing look and tone. Also, there’s no real connection between the issue and the product. Dove can make points about body image and loving who you are primarily because their product is about body care — regardless of your body shape. A luxury car forcing a point about gender equity — as admirable as the sentiment is — seems a bit forced.

    I thought your post was great! Thanks for sharing!

    Jim Tanner


    Bruell, A. (Feb. 2, 2017) Audi’s Super Bowl Ad on Gender Pay Gap Faces Criticism. Wall Street Journal. Retreived from https://www.wsj.com/articles/audis-super-bowl-ad-on-gender-pay-gap-faces-criticism-1486059609

    Kauflin, J. (Feb. 6, 2017) Why Audi’s Super Bowl Ad Failed. Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffkauflin/2017/02/06/why-audis-super-bowl-ad-failed/#668ffa721786

  3. Dulcey says:

    Hi Whitney:
    Your post reminded me of the infamous Virginal Slims campaign “You’ve Come A Long Way Baby.” Here is a historical look at the campaign, which emphasized two points 1) that women need a slimmer cigarette than men do (I guess because of their slimmer figures) 2) that a cigarette made just for women can be connected ideologically to women becoming more powerful in society.

    There are some real issues with this concept. First of all, it sets-up the expectation that women need to or should be slim. Second of all, it is selling a deathly product with a message of female empowerment. Though the campaign was radical when it began and through the 70s, and was probably a breath of fresh air in contrast to the usual men-centric advertising, it looses points on the ethics.

    It’s also interesting to note that the design and format of the ads did not change for 20 years, perhaps showing that the concept did not move forward with the times. Perhaps if the company had taken the risk to try something different, they could have saved the brand’s reputation from being one of the most notorious ad campaigns for women of all time.