Dr Vineeta Diwan

Department of Arts and Humanities
Kalinga University, New Raipur Chhattisgarh


The present scenario of the global market presents itself to be robustly swayed by the Capitalist philosophy. Femvertising is an advertising technique recently rising in the world of advertising by showcasing women in ads as the symbols of power to promote propaganda and brand loyalty. In the disguise of women empowerment, it is the veiled secrecy ‘to crack the market by opening a new gold mine right in the front yard’ as spoken in the words of George Washington Hill, President of American Tobacco Company, who hired the public relations giant Edward Bernay in 1929 to promote smoking among women. The brand Lucky Strike cigarettes were christened by Bernay as the ‘Torches’ of newfound freedom of women. About 85% of consumers in the world market are women and unfortunately, the majority of the ads are misleading with a shrewd marketing strategy to encash a serious concern of the world; women empowerment when associated with a particular brand. Objectification of women in the disguise of advertising and women empowerment ads is related to a particular product and brand. It is right to say that women are more beautiful than they think but why only for those who use Dove soap. The paper aims to present the concealed perception of marketing strategies and profit-making connected with empowerment as “empowerment” solely is not a commodity to be purchased but an inner idea that nurtures with life experiences, determination and a transformed attitude with a positive outlook towards women in society.

Keywords– Capitalism, Advertising and Femvertising, propaganda, brand loyalty, disguised objectification, Women empowerment 

Capitalism defines a market as a network of buyers and sellers to exchange goods and services. It proclaims to establish a democratic system in which one should have something to sell and the other should pay to buy it. Advertising, a boon to capitalism fosters economic growth to create a healthy atmosphere in today’s throat cut competition of business sectors. The media world including the television and internet earn huge profits through ads that attract customers through their catchy taglines and mesmerizing graphics. At the same time ads indirectly exercise their control over our subconscious to create brand loyalty, and enhance the bandwagon effect in the consumer market by manipulating our thoughts and ideas or ability to decide for ourselves.

Money making and profit play a pivotal role in the Capitalist economy. However time to time ethical socialism, a foil to Capitalism; has strived to create a morally conscious economy based on collaboration and social justice, still, profit remains the chief concern of the capitalist economy. Through persuasive techniques, the ad agencies promote the sales and marketing of commodities by employing rhetorical techniques and persuasive language. They catch the pulse of the ongoing times by working and researching upon the contemporary issues of the world, nation, and region to directly hit upon the customer psyche. They establish a strong connection between the burning social issues, problems of the age groups, gender discourses with the commodity for sale in which advertising techniques act as a bridge between the product and the consumer market.

Looking at the present scenario multiple socio-political ideologies are working in the ad sector for product promotion, among which feminism tops the chart. The strong political ideology of feminism gripped the idea of women’s social equality with the women’s suffrage which began in the latter half of the 19th century providing them with an equal opportunity to vote and play a crucial role in women empowerment. Feminism and its four waves reflect a serious concern towards the idea of granting equality and emancipating women from years of suffering and exploitation. Its aim to empower women and furnish equality is the growing consciousness among the countries of the world.

The corporate world and Capitalist economy endeavoured to reflect a noble gesture by incorporating feminine beliefs through advertising. The waves of feminism reflected its charisma in the ad world showcasing the concepts of equality and women empowerment, but at the same time controversies emerged in the media world on the idea of women portrayed in the ads. The distorted picture of the women in ads that was more of sexual objectification rather than empowerment or in disguise of empowerment and display of stereotypical idealistic models gave rise to the biggest debate that ‘ads are reflecting women as sexually powered of sexually objectified?’

In this context, a comic published in a magazine ‘Everyday Feminism’ points the minute difference between objectification and empowerment of women in terms of ‘power play’. The comic points the prime concern as the outlook of the people looking at the ad that reflects two different perspectives on women portrayal in ads; one perspective of the power play reflects women’s body as objectified when the power is in the hands of the ‘looker’ rather than ‘looked at’ and some may feel that it is in the power of a woman to present her as she wishes in which the power shifts to the ‘looked at’ rather than the ‘looker’ which points the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’. Thus it is the ‘power play and shifting of power’ that points the minute difference between objectification and empowerment in the concept of ad representative of feminism as a real picture or as a distorted one. At this instant, the underlying theory of ‘power’ simply points to the ‘power of consent’ which makes a person objectified or empowered, especially for women in this context.

The ‘power of consent’ in turn corresponds to the set beauty standards or stereotypes and respectability politics that may or may not allow a woman to give consent. On the commercial front the ‘power of consent’ becomes much more convoluted as objectification is considered lucrative and privileged. The impact factors including social network, systematic oppression, employment discrimination, poverty often create circumstances and push women to objectify. In this context of factors influencing ‘power of consent,’ there are the following views to be noted

According to Rae Helen Langton, an Australian and British professor of philosophy, it is men’s desire and belief that belittles women identified as ‘submissive’ and ‘object like’. In her words men desire women this way out of their norm of Assumed Objectivity; men believe women ‘object like’. Therefore in the context of women objectification, the world conforms to men’s minds and their beliefs to portray them object like which is the true but wrong direction to fit. [Langton 2000, 138-142]

According to Feminists Sandra Bartky and Susan Bordo women are objectified in the media more than men as they are valued for their looks. To gain social acceptability, women are under constant pressure to correct their body and appearance to conform to the female stereotypes in the ad world, norms of feminine appearance’ (the standards of appearance women feel they should be living up to) (Saul 2003, 144)

Immanuel Kant’s philosophy about objectification expresses objectification in terms of ‘object’ and ‘human’ as separate entities and distinguishes ‘human’ from an ‘object’. According to Kant ‘objectification’ is the idea of lowering an individual’s status from a ‘human’ to an ‘object’. Humans possess humanity as an integral quality that signifies an individual’s rational nature and capacity for rational choice. It is an individual’s capacity for rationally setting and pursuing its ends, hence it makes a human capable enough to decide what is valuable and the finding alternatives to realize and promote those values.

In the words of Kant,

Humanity is what is special about human beings. It distinguishes them from animals and inanimate objects. Because human beings are special in this sense they, unlike animals and objects, have a dignity (an ‘inner worth’, as opposed to a ‘relative worth’) (Kant 1785, 42). 

On the complicated fronts of Capitalist economy the human trait of ‘realization of worth or value’ and its ‘promotion’ takes place on a different plain and has a better recognition of ‘relative worth’ rather than ‘inner worth’ and eventually its promotion that hits the advertising sector and reduces human values to the base level of an object.

The capitalist economy could hardly overlook the importance of women in the global era when 85% of customers in the world are women, so it was quite profitable for them to research deeply upon the status of women in the world with changing times and the role of advertising sectors in promoting women empowerment; one the burning issue of the world.  A disguised and veiled version of feminism was presented to fit in the rules of the profit market.

This dates back into the history when women made their presence felt in the advertising world in the year 1885 when J Walter hires its first female space buyer, Alice Stoddard. In 1912 Nebo cigarettes released their ad quoting “I wish I were a man” to appeal to women in the suffrage movement by utilizing the theme of the liberation of women. The words were directed to offend men by the sass of a suffragette. The ad in the headline crosses the word boys and replaces it with a girl, a successful attempt to attract daring women and spur them to smoke out of rebellion. The ad changed the direction of the Nebo brand to associate it with the gender discourse, political and social movement of that time.

Unfortunately, the idea of women empowerment has always been related to ‘Man like behaviour’ and has been understood in a way that if women wish to gain equality and wish to empower them then they should give up the ‘women or girl type behaviour’ and adopt ‘man like behaviour’ an idea that reflects the unclear and vague understanding of women empowerment and feminism, that seriously overlooks the female traits as powerful weapons. 

This understanding of women empowerment attracted a great response in 1929, the ‘Torches of Freedom’ campaign to promote female emancipation and gender equality through smoking. The term ‘unfeminine’ came into play in the context of smoking for women which was finally overcome by the campaign and which characterized the first wave of feminism in the US when women marched on the streets in the Easter Sunday parade of New York lighting their Torches of newborn freedom symbolic of emancipation and equality.

The advertisements targeting women led to an increase in the number of female smokers and since 1929 the % of female smokers from 5% rose to about 33.3% in 1965, a level maintained till 1977 With a theme that Lucky Strike ‘Keeps you slim’ and ‘To get a slender figure no one can deny, Lucky strike’ women objectification was at its worst. Not only this, the tobacco industry organized sessions to make women learn how to smoke properly, organized competitions for women as the most delicate smoker.

The women’s liberation concept was exploited by the taglines as ‘I wish I were a man so I could smoke’ by Velvet 1912, and examples like ‘You have come a long way baby’ by Virginia slims already reflected a distorted picture of feminism and its propaganda. . The Marlboro brand of cigarettes famous for its famous Macho Marlboro man remained a celebrated brand of cigarettes for women when it underwent a serious change in its tagline in the year 1954 as ‘Mild as May with ivory tips to protect the lips. The popularity of smoking raised the percentage of women smokers from 5% to 33% in the year 1965. Till the 1950s lung cancer was a rare disease for women but by the year 2000 it had an equation of killing about 70,000 women every year which surpassed even the equation of breast cancer that was havoc among women.

Cunning capitalism and clever advertising techniques were aware of this idea that one-day voices will be raised against women objectification in the media and such foreshadowing ideas propelled their minds to take advantage of the issues related to women and children. The issues mainly included the Objectification of women in media and ads and the presentation of female stereotypes in the ads that hardly contributed to developing a new wave of civilization. Ads that reflected the picture of a woman acting like a typical housewife, homemaker, rearing up kids and like a doormat, offering cigarettes to soldiers as a helper could not create any wave of change in the society for which feminism was striving. Equality and emancipation of women being the two major concerns were struggling to be voiced through media that could present a transformed picture of women who were presented as mere sexual objects. Capitalism eyed the issues of equality and women emancipation as two burning issues and demands of the time and by correlating it to the commodities played a clever game to encash and merchandize it to gain profit at par.

Femvertizing, a new trend of advertising that related the feminine issues with the market was though coined in the year….but the philosophy seemed to make its start long ago in the year 1885. 

As defined by ‘She Knows Media’ Femvertising is an advertising technique that employs ‘pro-female talent, messages and imageries to empower girls and women. It is a campaign to showcase the power of women in the ad world rather than objectifying them. The ad world presents a biased picture of gender stereotypes in which men are presented to be tough stronger and sterner whereas women are presented to be delicate, tender and the one who is dependent on men. As opposed to this Femvertising plays a significant role to raise the standard of a woman from an ‘object satisfying appetite’ to an empowered woman and balances the ‘power’ equation between the ‘looker’ and the ‘looked at. It tries to make women self-reliant and confident in the media by making better use of their ‘power of consent’ to reflect a true picture o their real selves. To a great extent, Femvertising was a good start to dissolve the gender gaps existing in modern society and it attracted great attention at the global level with ‘Dove’s real beauty campaign for empowering women.

However, to some extent, Femvertising also seemed to lose its real meaning when it unconsciously tried to promote brand loyalty or commodity. Advertising became a fashionable trend with advancing times and lost its real mission, which had a serious concern of women empowerment. The idea was justified by Dove’s real beauty campaign which involves some real capital economy aspect reflecting a drastic increase in the sale of Dove beauty soap that grew from 2.5 billion dollars to 4 billion dollars and the ad campaign attracting 30 times more exposure than paid media space. The darker aspect of the campaign diverts attention to Dove’s parent company Unilever, which also has the ownership rights for Axe, men’s toiletries. On the controversial side, many ads of Axe are quite disgraceful and reflect a sexist attitude towards women.  Hence the idea of feminism and women empowerment adopted by Unilever became self-contradictory as it did not reflect the core ideology of the parent company which clarified the idea that how core values of the company differ in two different aspects, how they change their attitude cleverly for one product and remained the stale attitude for other thus it was no less than an effective marketing tool and less of the feminine ideology.

Pantene’s ad in the Philippines is a video featuring the double standards of man and woman at a workplace in which titles like dedicated, boss, persuasive and neat are meant for men, whereas titles like selfish, vain, bossy and pushy are meant for women and at the end of the video the woman shows her twirls and a quote is displayed ‘Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine’ The ad can be divided into two phases, in the first phase The ad reflects the double standards and in the second phase it disregards the idea of gender inequality and works more on pushing hair products. It is a cynical and distrustful act of exploiting feminine idealism or to ‘rake in lucre’, an act of drawing money dishonourably, a serious mockery of feminine ideology by showing that one can fight patriarchy by hydrating one’s split ends!  

Similarly Cover girls’ Campaign, ‘Girls Can’ also suffered criticism on account of using the word ‘girl’ which was demeaning to many elderly women and undermining empowerment. As reflected in The Guardian,

By claiming to represent “real” women’s bodies, what does the campaign buy into, and what does it challenge? The camera pans across a range of exercising bodies that are not normally privileged on television screens – good. But this campaign is not only still all about women’s flesh, though it tries to sell that as somehow radical or revolutionary.

The campaign failed to engage women of all age groups. ‘More than a bum’ campaign of Wranglers in 2016 is equally responsible for presenting a distorted picture of feminism claiming to assure women that they have so much to offer. The three-minute ad video focuses on close-ups and multiple shots of women’s bums with a tagline that they are more than that. At this instant, a sharp contrast between the preacher and his preaching is noticed which first suggests them to believe in what they preach. The ad is the biggest backlash and mockery of advertising, simply exploiting the ideologies of feminism.

In words of Banet-Wieser Femvertising plays no role in the fight for women’s equality if the company doesn’t live up to feminist ideals. Instead, they’re dangerously redefining the meaning of feminism — diminishing it to a tagline and dumping it down to a hashtag. It’s difficult to see how feminist advertising is committed to structural change since the appeal is to individual women rather than a collective movement

Still, Femvertising endeavours to change the psyche of the masses and route out patriarchal mindset through some non-profit missions like ‘Girls who code’ that sell not a commodity but purely empowerment. Advertising at its best when it does not incorporate its ideologies as product-based and transcends above that to reflect feminism as a powerful thought, a change that manifests itself in the society through actions and has great authentic stories to tell of the feminine struggle rather than veiled objectification. 


  • Sweet.

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