The State of “Empowerment” Marketing

In 2014, I wrote about “female empowerment” marketing — a trend in advertising that I now recognize as the first swell of the “empowertizing” trend, presently in full force. While Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty” and Always’ “Like a Girl” campaigns seemed novel three years ago, it’s now difficult for me to identify a female-focused brand that is not using messages of female empowerment in some way. Every brand is hopping on the female empowerment bandwagon: Audi’s 2017 Super Bowl ad argued for equal pay for equal work (and earned the company, with its very male C-suite, some backlash), Dior produced a $710 T-shirt that proclaimed “We should all be feminists,” and, of course, at the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards show, Beyoncé did this:

Of course, since 2014, a great deal has changed. Beginning with the Women’s March and culminating in the #MeToo movement, 2017 has been a pivotal year for gender politics. (For an in-depth look at how brands are using and abusing feminist ideology, I recommend Andi Zeisler’s book We Were Feminists Once.) So, it’s worth asking, how have brands responded to the shift in gender politics in 2017? Are we truly seeing a response to the reality of evolving cultural values, or simply a shallow extension of the “empowertizing” trend that started several years ago?

If we examine major brands’ advertising efforts in 2017, a few clear patterns emerge.

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