The 10 Most Powerful Women’s Advertisements of 2016

Nike India Womens Advertisement

Nike India’s ‘Let’s Go’ had nearly 5 million views

One day in some distant future, or perhaps in some slightly altered reality, we will live in a world where we won’t need femvertising. Femvertising is a trendy form of advertising aimed at women consumers that tends to capitalize on a message of empowerment by dove tailing off the insight that women are systemically disempowered by culture and society.

If that gives you slightly queazy feelings, it should. In practice, femvertising can either go really well or really badly. This hold-your-breath reception might have to do with the fact that most of the creatives in the industry making the decisions behind these  femvertisments  are men (just one of many gender issues within an industry known for its problematic relationships with women).

Perhaps to circumvent this, femvertisments  as of late have played it safe, sticking to the tried and true storytelling tactic called, testimonials. Most noticeably popularized through the Always and Dove commercials a few years back, testimonials involve women talking to a camera about their insecurities as the brand seeks to acknowledge their experience and empower them through a product or message.

Sadly, the testimonial has been recycled into the ground during 2016, and with it, the ability to powerfully connect with consumers on the other side. After all, when everyone is doing it, the underlying message is that everyone is cashing in on it.

Even a quick snap shot of the HuffPo’s feature on the 27 Most Beautifully Diverse Fashion and Beauty Campaigns of 2016 can be bucketed into four distinct genres of advertisements: the testimonial, the portrait of a diverse model staring into the camera, a group of diverse women staring into the camera, or a combination of any one of these things in video form.

So where does that leave us in terms of the most groundbreaking, compelling work aimed to empower women in 2016? With a little bit of the old ways, and with some surprisingly powerful  and original ideas. Check out the list below to see who made the cut (and why).

10. Microsoft, ‘Women’s Day 2016′

Sure, this ad plays off the old testimonial idea, but it has a surprising coming-of-age twist: as these young girls list off celebrated inventors, they begin to realize none of the inventors they are listing are women. In celebration of Women’s Day, Microsoft lists women who have made substantial scientific contributions to the world, and encourages these young girls to follow suite.  That’s great Microsoft! Let’s just make sure to keep doing that all year long, and not just on a day.

9. Brawny, ‘#StrengthHasNoGender’

Need a little inspiration? Brawny revamped its idea of toughness this year by showcasing a history of strong women into the present day. Its a quick spot, but the message is clear: you are strong and always have been. Thanks Brawny!

8. Girls Who Code, ‘Why Can’t Girls Code?’

Periods. Boobs that haven’t grown yet. Eyelashes that are just too long to see the computer screen. All these hilarious reasons are listed by young girls denoting the deeply troubling and various aspects of sexism within STEM industries. The message is even more powerful coming from young girls learning how to code, and without a doubt is inspiring to the women facing these stereotypes within the industry each day.

7.  NCAA PSA, ‘Done’

There are two ways to read this video launched from the National Collegiate Athletic Association: female athletes are done with advertisers telling women they are powerful or, female athletes are done with advertisers telling  women to become even more powerful.

Either way, the message these athletes are getting from advertisers is that women aren’t powerful enough. These athletes are here to say, “We know we are powerful, and we are done with you.”

6. HelloFlo + Kotex Partnership, ‘Aunt Flow’

In a world where periods are represented by blue liquid and women rolling through fields of flowers – HelloFlo brings yet another refreshing reality check to the market.

If the Bechdel test was appropriated for marketing, this would be one of the only commercials made this year that would pass the test. With four major female characters speaking to each other, this spot uses humor, witty language, and relatable experiences to announce the brand partnership between HelloFlo and Kotex.

5. Hillary Clinton, ‘Mirrors’

Perhaps the most compelling political campaign of the year, Hillary Clinton’s ‘Mirrors’ is a simple spot featuring young girls looking at themselves in the mirror as Donald Trump’s quotes about women are read to them. The effect was chilling and powerful.

4. #WomenNotObjects

#WomenNotObjects is a campaign created by an advertising agency leader Madonna Badger of the advertising firm Badger and Winters.

The advertisement was made to call other advertising agencies out for their sexist advertising, and B&A’s own pledge not to use women as sexualized or gendered objects to sell a product. Hows that for meta?  Hopefully we will see a little more of this from industry leaders going into 2017.

3. H&M’s Autumn Collection 2016

At first glance this ad seems like a surefire femvertising miss: cameras pan over women’s bodies, glamorizing their objectification  in ways only the fashion industry can.

But on closer notice, all the women disrupt the effect the camera is trying to create through their bodies movements or appearances (hello hairy arm pits!).  The women subvert traditional fashion poses and through their own body power and quirkiness, defy high fashion expectations  (like our high fashion femme fetal man spreading on the subway). Best yet, the cast is diverse as it gets – from body size to age to gender to race.

It really doesn’t matter what you wear. It matters how you wear it:  as you are.

2. Nike India’s ‘Let’s Go’

Perhaps what makes Nike India’s ad so powerful is that it features women who aren’t afraid to take up space. The concept sounds simple, but the reality is that women fight to take up space in this world every damn day — whether it’s through body type acceptance, beauty standards, in the office or on a sports field, or in a battle field.

Although the advertisement was made specifically for Indian audiences and uses sports as its vehicle, the message to take up space is at the central core of empowerment, and is relatable and inspiring to women around the world. Plus, that song. Who wouldn’t want to run a half marathon  after listening to that song?

1. Secret ‘Ladies Room’

Secret’s ‘Ladies Room’ champions courage, acceptance and community through womanhood.

The visual plot line of Secret’s ad focuses on a woman who is transgender, standing inside a stall. She struggles to decide whether she should leave upon hearing voices on the other side – will she be tormented? Tolerated? Told to leave?

Given the North Carolina bathroom bill and other political hate this past year to trans people, this advertisement couldn’t be more timely, tactful or powerful. It’s both inspiring and beautiful, and truly emphasizes the best aspects of womanhood – the courage for all of us to come together, and lift each other up into the next year.

Shanthi Blanchard

About Shanthi Blanchard

Shanthi is a writer and consultant based in New York City. As a digital and brand strategist, Shanthi works for women entrepreneurs and rural businesses on a mission to improve the world. She is also a passionate political writer, sports enthusiast, and runner. Follow her in twitter and Instagram @Oms4Shanthi. Pitch Shanthi: shanthi@heragenda.com
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