A watershed year for women's advertising

19 Dec 2017  |  Tanya Joseph 
A watershed year for women's advertising

Change is coming, but are brands moving fast enough to keep up, asks The Pool's Tanya Joseph

During his election campaign, 11 women accused Donald Trump of making unwanted sexual advances, we all heard the tape of him bragging about grabbing women “by the pussy” and yet he was elected President. The weekend before his inauguration, millions of women and men across the world took the streets in protest. A match was lit.

The past 12 months have felt like a watershed. Women who do not consider themselves “political”, who did not, would not define themselves as “feminists” have said enough is enough and have become to call things out and, importantly, their voices are being heard. Merriam-Webster has named ‘feminism’ as its word of the year, one of the most searched words in their online dictionary.

While stories about the casting coach are not new, the Harvey Weinstein allegations have had repercussions both for Weinstein, other alleged harassers and the wider industry. In Britain the narrative has taken a political turn, with attention focused on the behaviour within the Houses of Parliament.

But beyond the allegations and criminal investigations has been the sheer number of women for whom the story has resonated. Within a few hours #MeToo was everywhere, women understood and were desperate to find platforms to share their thoughts and feelings.

It is clear that women are looking for more than platforms and brands who pay lip service to gender and wider diversity issues"

You just have to look at how a short story in the New Yorker dominated social media over the weekend to appreciate that this is not a phenomenon that is going to go away quickly: Cat Person put into words what so many women have felt for years.

And your point is? I hear you asking. Well, the point is smart brands get this. Smart brands get that women are looking for more meaningful relationships with brands who really understand them. Smart brands get that women engage with things that are important to them, that tone, language and imagery are all important. Smart brands get that this is simply never going to delivered by programmatic.

I say this having witnessed first-hand the operation of The Pool, the digital platform creating inspiring content for women, for the last six months.

As the chair, I can take no credit for the content (I keep dropping hints but there have been no invitations to write 250 words on anything) but it is clear that the content being produced under the leadership of Sam Baker is hitting a nerve, in particular the news and comment pieces.

Whether it is commentary on how Weinstein’s accusers are being treated, a story about a judge telling a sexual assault victim she should be flattered or a piece about Monica Lewinsky 20 years on, there is a real appetite for thought-provoking content.

It is clear that women are looking for more than platforms and brands who pay lip service to gender and wider diversity issues. More and more women want brands and platforms who share their desire for social change.

From an industry perspective, it is a vindication for an emerging media business model, one that eschews digital display, focusing instead on high quality partnerships in which brands can be positioned with the audience in a relevant and engaging manner.

But it also highlights a challenge. Are brands ready yet to move forward in their advertising to give what an audience like that of The Pool is demanding?

I frequently hear brands talk about how they can get closer to their predominantly female audience but I am not sure how many of them are prepared to rethink the way they market to women. If brands are to keep up with their audiences, it means thinking longer term, and being willing to reassess content, tone, placement of campaigns.

There is clearly a responsibility here for media like The Pool to help brands. To help them recognise and produce advertising which presents women in a way they now demand. Featuring women across a wider range of ages. And a broader ethnic background. And in roles that eschew stereotypes that have become rapidly dated.

This pressure to change in advertising is not just coming from the audience of media like The Pool. The ASA is introducing new rules on harmful gender stereotyping in advertising which comes into play for 2018.

Change is coming. The question to brands is are they moving fast enough to keep up?

The Pool isn’t the only way of engaging with women in a meaningful and impactful way. A small, but thankfully growing, number of brands has joined the battle.

The campaigns that have enjoyed the most success are those that have an authenticity that is immediately apparent to the consumer, that have abandoned harmful stereotypes and that treat women was beings with a brain who are interested in fashion and beauty but who also care about the wider world.

It didn’t all start with Trump, but maybe his election was the beginning of the end.

Tanya Joseph is chair of The Pool


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