You turn on the TV and flip to a channel playing a commercial. Quite frequently, these commercials place women and men in certain perspectives. The men are portrayed as strong, brave, and capable, while the women are made to look fragile, gentle, and—above all—sexy. Then, once in a while, you’ll run into a commercial in which females are presented differently, at least at first glance. You see commercials that acknowledge the “secrets” behind making commercials, like when extensive photo shopping is used. There are also ones that break away from the seemingly stereotypical presentation of a female. And of course, because this is something completely novel; the media creates hype around these types of commercials and labels them as empowering. However, we must remember that these “empowering” messages are still a part of companies’ marketing strategies, and upon further examination may not be empowering after all.
One such example is Dove’s Real Beauty Sketch campaign, for which Dove hired a professional FBI artist to draw women’s faces as interviewees describe themselves to an interviewer. This video on Youtube has received nationwide attention and has raised controversies over the definition of beauty. It focuses especially on physical appearance, seeking to demonstrate to women that others perceive them as more beautiful than they perceive themselves; this implies that women judge their own appearances too harshly.
Although Dove is not objectifying women, the video is simply reflective of aesthetic physicality. It neglects many other exceptional characteristics women possess, such as intelligence and courage. In reality, Dove has not stepped away from from the cultural definitions of feminine beauty. Most women are susceptible to advertisements that introduce products which beautify them, and Dove just happens to be an aesthetic company that meets the right demands.
Another commercial which has received a lot of media attention for “going against the norm” is Labels Against Women, Pantene’s attack on workplace inequality. The commercial shows how society perceives men and women who are performing the same acts at work differently. For example, while people see a man making a speech as “persuasive,” they see a woman as “pushy.” The commercial concludes with a valid message: “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.” This final message and the acknowledgement of the different perceptions of man and woman apparently merits extensive media attention, which is exactly what Pantene wants. Viewers then receive the idea that Pantene’s commercial is indeed “different” and “progressive” and thus encourages change.
But looking back on the rest of the commercial, we see that most of the time is spent focusing on the workplace disparities. Pantene consistently acknowledges society’s stereotypes and thus greatly elaborates on the idea that women are weaker than men. The brief final message given to viewers may seem central to the commercial, but in fact isn’t, because the commercial itself does not devote any time to suggest practical solutions to eradicate these labels or even to suggest an alternative world where the situation is different. In reality, Pantene has not brought about any change to the workplace inequalities it presents and merely achieves further reinforcement of the disparities.
Pantene uses these tricks to deceive consumers, making audiences think that their product is better because they support progressive movements. What consumers don’t realize is that the company’s ultimate goal is the same as that of all other commercials: to sell.
People can see that although companies may sometimes take a different approach to advertising their products, they do not step away from emphasizing external beauties and from reinforcing societal stereotypes. Advertising is one thing, but making an effort to bring about change in the advertising world or society in general is another. Beauty commercials should abandon the attempt to sell by exploiting women’s weak spots, as they only serve to perpetuate the present problems. Maybe one day we will see a company abandon all pretenses of achieving the purpose to sell and actually see an advertisement that will bring about change and have substantial results.