August 21st, 2019

Promoting Female Empowerment? Consider these Advertising Dos & Don’ts


Ace Metrix

Any day is a great opportunity for brands to celebrate and promote female empowerment in advertising. However, we see the largest spikes in this type of messaging around female-centric holidays like Women’s Equality Day (August 26th), Women’s Small Business Month (October) and International Women’s Day (March 8th). 

We know a lecture about the importance of an authentic connection isn’t necessary. Instead, we used our Cultural Perception measure to look at some of the most empowering and most exploitative examples in female empowerment advertising to find the keys to success with consumers. Our Cultural Perception measure detects evidence of empowering and exploitative signal across all ages, genders, ethnicities, religions etc, to provide advertisers with a pragmatic understanding of how viewers react to their ad in terms of cultural and social issues.

Be Inclusive

Featuring a spectrum of women, in anything from age to career to interests, ensures your female-focused message is resonating with as much of this demographic as possible. Make-up retailer ULTA celebrates female empowerment among women (and men) from all walks of life. The ad stands out from typical beauty product ads as it reminds us that we’re beautiful from the start and makeup is more about added confidence and self-expression than fixing what we think is wrong with our physical appearance. With such a diverse cast, ULTA’s inspiring message related to all different types of women, resulting in a Relevance score 29% above cosmetic norms in addition to Rare levels of Adtastic and Love It reactions from female viewers.

ULTA “Beauty Without Limits” = Empowering

Feature Future Women

A common theme among the empowering ads we examined was the emphasis on future women — young girls with hopes and dreams that disregard systemic difficulties and glass ceilings. A combination of their optimism, determination and innocence triggers heartfelt reactions and inspires consumers, making them more receptive to the message than when negative emotions are the driving force.

Microsoft “#MakeWhatsNext: Change the Odds” = Empowering

Microsoft focuses on a specific topic within gender equality that hits close to home. The ad builds momentum with girls detailing their STEM-related goals and exploring their passions with technology. But then, the girls are faced with a sobering stat. Instead of being discouraged, the girls dismiss it and express even more drive to succeed. 

There was a strong But reaction (internal conflict) as many viewers noted the reasons behind the stat are more complex than the ad illustrated. However, the girls featured in the spot overpowered that reaction, making viewers feel Inspired and impacted by the Powerful message.

Practice What You Preach

Part of the shift towards favoring socially-conscious brands means consumers are keeping tabs on company policies and practices. Consumers can see through superficial statements when brands take a stand on gender equality. 

If you decide to comment on female empowerment or gender equality, make it sincere with a pledge or donation to a related cause, or detail the importance of the issue at your company. If your brand’s record isn’t perfect, demonstrate how you’ve changed, or are currently changing with concrete steps to combat imperfections.

Audi “Daughter” = Empowering

Achieving Rare levels of Empowering signal on our Cultural Perception measure, with no Exploit score, “Daughter” from Audi is a perfect example of practicing what is preached in a sincere manner. Airing during Super Bowl 51, which saw an abundance of political and socially charged messages, this spot’s earnest storytelling delivered a moving message about the gender pay gap. Audi backed up its stance with a pledge to take internal action. 

Don’t Be Mean

Our Inappropriate emotional metric is triggered when female empowerment ads appear divisive, whether that’s stating female superiority or shaming males, and often contributes to a sense of exploitation. Both males and females reacted to the most exploitative ads in this manner, with phrases like “The future is female” also caming off as Sexist to GenPop viewers.

Twitter “#HereWeAre: Standing with Women Around the World” = Exploitative 

In what was seen as a nod to the feminist movement as well as #MeToo, Denise Frohment recites her poem about the strength and power of women in Twitter’s “#HereWeAre.” With no mention of men in the ad, males and females found the spot suggestive of female superiority which ultimately resulted in greater negative emotional impact (Sexist, Inappropriate, Awful) than positive (Inspiring).

Don’t Force Authenticity

Brands that think an authentic connection means only having to relate a product to female empowerment or gender equality will likely come off as exploitative. If the message relies on the product being more forward, it can create skepticism and distrust among consumers (picked up by our Dishonest and Incredulous metrics). If you have to change something about your product or service to make a link, then you’re definitely forcing it.

NUTrition “The Pay Gap is Nuts” = Exploitative

NUTrition tried to demonstrate the frustration of a gender pay gap using different portion sized bags of nuts. While the product tie-in made for a “punny” title, the seriousness of the issue in association with a trivial product came off as disingenuous. Consumers found the ad Dishonest and Incredulous. Additionally, the treatment of males in the ad was seen as Inappropriate, further contributing to a high Exploit score.

These takeaways will help brands mitigate the risks from negative cultural impact (eg. social media backlash), allowing brands to walk the female empowerment walk. But just to be sure, contact us if you’d like to measure the impact of your ad’s Empower and Exploit signal.

Note: Bold words are from Ace EMO, which measures the strength of emotional connection in advertising. The proprietary approach quantifies 57 emotions and reactions such as: Heartfelt, Nostalgia, Humor, Authentic, Dishonest, Preachy, and Sexist. Scores are passively derived from voluntary respondent verbatim comments using Natural Language Processing and machine learning analysis. Each of the 57 emotions are evaluated relative to all other ads in the Ace Metrix database, totaling over ten million verbatims.


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