Be one of the hands that helps lift girls up
Advertisers have a duty to think about girls and the younger generation who are finding their way in the world, writes The Huffington Post's Poorna Bell
Being a teenage girl in the 90s and a Marilyn Manson fan, when other girls were arguing over which Spice Girl they wanted to be, made a tough situation even trickier for me.
But although I had a different taste of music and dress to most other girls, we were actually part of the same demographic. We were young girls and women who were growing up in the world, trying to figure ourselves out. We also had the same advertisers trying to sell to us, whether it was food, clothing, makeup or tampons. And some of it was really, really odd.
Case in point: Cadbury's Flake Deliciously Terrifying ad from 1992, which revolves around a naked woman eating a Flake bar in a steamy bathtub, with eerie, tense music played in the background.
Was this ad about sex? Or was it about chocolate? I was 12 at the time of its release and I remember being very confused and a bit terrified by it - not far from what the title predicts.
Ads in the 90s seemed to gravitate around the common theme of telling women that they could have it all. They could be the mum who is responsible for sorting out dinner time, whilst at the same time aspiring to a superlative idea of beauty embodied by "supers" like Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, and Linda Evangelista.
The need for role models
The problem, however, was that we didn't have the right role models to show us how this could be achieved. The world hadn't really changed enough to meet this vision being sold to us. There was no Beyonce, no Emma Watson. There had been a female British Prime Minister, but she was the "Iron Lady" and had played a man's game. We didn't have a Hillary, we had Hillary's husband.
Looking at advertising from that era compared to now, there has been a crucial shift in placing women rather than products at the heart of campaigns. Campaigns now tap into women's hopes, dreams and realities rather than their fears. To me, that time when you are making your first steps as a woman and figuring things out is a key time for advertisers.
Young girls have an abundance of confidence, but studies show that after the age of 10 it slowly starts to drop. More than half (56%) of girls lose confidence during puberty and advertising plays a significant role in this process - for better or for worse.*
Research shows that after 60 seconds of seeing an ad with an underweight model, women's perceptions of themselves are negatively impacted.**
Conversely, research from 2015 shows that brands that resonate highly with girls are ones that listen to their opinions, makes them feel confident and allows them to be themselves.
Changing the dialogue
The Huffington Post has done great work in this area with clients such as Bodyform, Dove and Triumph, which tap into our strong female messaging. Nike is another great example. It ran the empowering #BetterForIt campaign last year, championing hard work and commitment.
Nike also released a superb campaign in India championing female athletes ahead of the Olympics. This year, its 2016 Unlimited campaign just sums up why this brand are leaders when it comes to representing women in a strong and empowering way, yet remaining subtle in their approach to advertising.
We live in an age of such transparency, such hyper-connectedness that people will know you aren't selling them something authentic."
Despite the fact that we are clearly heading towards a new, better age of advertising when it comes to women, some brands still get it wrong. Earlier this year, Gap Kids were called out for using sexual stereotypes in its campaign, by showing the boy as "the little scholar" and the girl as "the social butterfly".
The power of social media
Most of the public outrage in this case was expressed through social media, which demonstrates two things. First of all, despite the ongoing conversations about how social media may be eroding self-esteem in women, it is moments such as these that show the power it has to spread body positive movements, as well as female empowerment movements.
Secondly and perhaps even more importantly, the existence of social media has left no place to hide for advertisers who are outdated in how they market to women. If those "offenders" needed even more convincing, stats show that remaining stagnant in this area no longer makes business sense either.
Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases in the US.*** In the 57% of women say they make the key buying decisions in households.**** In the car industry, which is traditionally geared towards men, 70% of women have purchase power or heavily influence the decision to buy a car.
What have we learnt?
For me, the main take away lesson is that we need to get better at reaching out to women. More importantly, we have a duty and a responsibility to think about girls and the younger generation who are finding their way in the world.
And if you're not quite sure where to start, here are a few of the lessons I've learned:
Be authentic. We live in an age of such transparency, such hyper-connectedness that people will know you aren't selling them something authentic.
Be informed. Keep an eye on trends and jump on them as quickly as you can. Amazon Fashion is a great example in this area. This year they teamed with influencers and bloggers for their Say Something Nice campaign, to tap into the messaging around online trolling and how that affects body confidence; one of the biggest topics of this year.
Be brave. Women respect bravery and brands that are able to change the conversation around gender are seen not only as game-changing, but also memorable. The This Girl Can campaign is now known as a staple of advertising success. For Sport England chief Tanya Joseph, however, this was a huge risk because nothing like that had been done before.
If you can, be the brand who is part of this story of empowerment. Be one of the many hands that lifts these girls up and that doesn't chip away at their confidence but instead instils it. You won't just be changing the game, you will be changing the way the world works.
Poorna Bell is executive editor for The Huffington Post UK and global lifestyle head