Advertising feminism sparks conversation


Annie Cohen, Contributing Columnist

Normally, the worlds of high fashion and social activism do not intersect. On Sept. 30, however, they collided spectacularly on a Parisian catwalk. During the grand finale of Chanel’s fashion show, models strutted down the runway waving signs emblazoned with distinctly feminist slogans such as “Ladies First” and “He for She” while “I’m Every Woman” by Chaka Khan played in the background. This grand display of haute couture and flamboyant feminism was met with mixed reactions. Was Chanel expressing genuine support for a social movement or merely capitalizing on a trending issue?

In fact, whatever Chanel’s motives may be, the company put a spotlight on feminism and made it a topic of conversation. This is, unequivocally, a positive thing. This principle of raising conversation also applies to the recent surge in female empowering advertisements on television and the Internet. For example, Verizon recently unveiled  an ad campaign titled “Inspire Her Mind,” which poignantly depicts a young, scientifically inclined girl who was gradually conditioned to avoid science and engineering. Admittedly, this premise has little to do with promoting a cell phone plan, but that is beside the point. Rather than critique and overanalyze Verizon’s intentions, we should recognize how forward-thinking it is to create an advertisement based on this premise. In fact, the ad has promoted feminist ideals to over 3.5 million YouTube viewers.

Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign is another example of a company employing an inspiring feminist narrative in its advertising. The ad campaign features female athletes, most prominently ballerina Misty Copeland, in order to send out an empowering message to women. Again, the logic behind creating this ad is irrelevant. If it is enough to spur a dialogue about feminism or even inspire people to take action individually, the ad is successful.

A common critique of companies that embrace different social movements is that they are aligning themselves with a cause simply because the cause is glamorous and of the moment. In other words, the company does not really care about the cause, but it wants to garner business from people who do. To that I say: so what? Profit and progress need not be mutually exclusive. Many people choose certain brands or products because their values are similar, and they would rather give money to people who share their core beliefs. If both the idea and product are promoted amass publicity and prosperity, it is a win for both sides.

As feminism continues to be a hot topic, we will continue to see it manifested in advertisements and celebrity culture. Rather than being exploitative, all of this exposure serves to further encourage the cause.

A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 8 print issue. Email Annie Cohen at [email protected].