From Elon Journal of Undergraduate Research in Communications VOL. 6 NO. 1
Faux Activism in Recent Female-Empowering Advertising
VII. Discussion and Limitations
The content analysis led the author to conclude that the content analysis supports the initial thesis that ad-her-tising is nothing more than a trend that gets individuals to buy products. By participating in this trend, companies are taking advantage of feminism as a legitimate source of activism. The goal of the companies is to make the consumer believe they are passionate about a cause while not necessarily believing in the messages they publicize.
This is especially apparent in examining the male-targeted advertisements in which women are treated as no more than a prop and exhibit vast anti-feminist ideas. Women in the male-targeted advertisements analyzed said no more than one sentence in each advertisement. The women were also either scantily clad in bikinis, presented as a prize in a tight-fitting evening dress, or shown in what is commonly discussed as one of a man’s favorite outfits, a sundress. The images of women in these advertisements show the opposite of feminist ideals and contradict their sister-company’s efforts to promote female empowerment.
Ultimately, faux activism exists within the beauty industry and even within ad-her-tising. What is important is to recognize that companies practice faux activism and only jump on a trend if it contributes to profits. The trend of brand activism is also elevating the ad-her-tising trend and making it more pronounced as it reached new heights during the summer months of 2014. In the midst of a third-wave of feminism, brands’ faux activism can cloud messages that are actually important to the feminist movement in order to gain consumers and larger sales. Arguably, while ad-her-tising does increase awareness of feminism through femaleempowering advertisements, which does aid in the third-wave movement, ad-her-tising is indeed more like a marketing trend with little substance behind it.
Ultimately, the findings show that it may not be possible for a company with multiple brands to extend empowerment views across all of them without alienating certain consumers. When the same parent companies manage different brands with different goals, it may not be possible for a brand to have a completely valid stance in activism.
This study has some limitations. As part of requirements for a semester course, this research was conducted in a short time frame of 14 weeks. If more time were allowed, additional data could have been gathered directly from research participants who could testify to consumer projections of ad-her-tising. This information would have aided in defining how consumers perceive the ads and if they think companies are practicing faux activism. More studies on ad-her-tising can be conducted to analyze not only the messages the brands send out and the faux activism they practice, but also their effects on society and the consumer. Of course, the sample size of videos could have been larger for more valid results.
Following this study, it can be concluded that while brands seem to support gender equality and feminism through female-empowering advertisements, the companies are actually practicing faux activism. This is seen through the contradicting messages of the brands Unilever and Procter & Gamble promote and the anti-feminist messages their male-targeted brands send through advertising.
The implications of this research is that ad-her-tisement messages do not have a ring of validity to them when the brands send them out to participate in a trend as a tactic to turn a profit. The result suggests that caution should be taken when consumers support a brand solely because of its ad-her-tisement.
While this research does support the notion that companies are jumping on the feminist advertising trend to turn a profit, this study cannot be generalized to all brands that have practiced ad-her-tising as a marketing tactic since this study highlighted only two companies.
This author is thankful to Dr. David Copeland, A.J. Flectcher Professor at Elon University, for his supervision and advice, without which the article could not be published. The author also appreciates numerous reviewers who have helped revise this article.