With commercials like Gillette’s “We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be” and Nike’s “Dream Crazier” commercial, it is safe to assume that some brands are embracing a strong stance in combining activism and marketing.
In reality, certain companies are taking the approach of “slacktivism,” meaning they choose to promote a political or social movement when it can be profitable for them but do nothing more to actually help the cause.
The companies that are so quick to use feminism and “girl power” as a selling point for their products are the same ones that profit off of women’s insecurities and society’s desire to force women to adopt a constantly beautiful, put-together persona.
This is not a new phenomenon. In the past, companies like Mattel, the manufacturer of Barbie, advertises itself as a feminist company that works to teach young girls that they are capable of anything they put their minds to. However, they still create dolls that have completely unattainable beauty standards; even their new “plus-sized” and “curvy” dolls have idealized proportions.
Companies seem to capitalize on the idea that feminism is having a “moment” (which is a harmful notion all on its own). Using feminist messages to show women that being themselves is not a bad thing — but messages only go so far. Companies are using their platforms to create advertisements using feminist ideals and are focusing on the detriments that internalized sexism has on everyone in society and that is helpful, but these companies need to go one step further.
To these companies, such as Victoria’s Secret and CoverGirl, female empowerment and feminism end at the marketing campaign.
Nosheen Iqbal explained in a 2015 op-ed for The Guardian that “the advertising industry, once bent on selling us sex is now selling us it’s disgust with sexism.” These companies, while making it more veiled, are still selling unattainable beauty standards. These companies showcase conventionally beautiful men and women using their products in an attempt to sell their products, seeming to imply that if you use the same products, you can be as flawless and attractive as these professional, photoshopped models.
While it is great that these massive companies using their advertising to open consumers’ eyes to the damage that sexism and toxic masculinity do to women and men alike, they still depend on women using their hair care products and makeup. These companies always have and always will profit on the idea that women should constantly be striving to be beautiful before anything else; a woman isn’t “herself” until she has shiny hair, flawless skin and beautiful makeup. They depend on our insecurities and would essentially be put out of business if their consumers realized how little the products do to help them in everyday life.
That being said, not every company targeted at females is using feminism and female insecurity solely to further profit. Always, the feminine hygiene brand, had a marketing campaign in their “#LikeAGirl” advertisements. In addition, they are one of the larger companies that use their profit and influence to help women around the world by working with philanthropic organizations.
Companies still have some work to do when it comes to being authentically feminist; simply using the movement to create ad revenue isn’t enough. That being said, the mere fact that they are creating ad campaigns based on the movement shows that the issue is vital, and is something we need to start paying more attention to.
Beauty companies have long depended on consumers’ insecurities to sell products and, without these insecurities, these companies would go out of business. They are using the feminist movement in an attempt to sell products to activists, but overlook the negative aspects of the product that they are selling in the toxic environment that is the beauty industry.