A recent Pantene ad titled “Labels Against Women” has sparked a feminist debate: is it okay for the company to use feminism to sell products? Some think that the use of feminism in advertising is a great way to appeal to the masses and to sneak difficult ideas on inequality and wage gaps into pop culture; the ad has been touted as a powerful beacon for women in the workplace. But others have been disturbed, claiming that what advertisers like Pantene do is perpetuate the idea that a woman’s most important attribute is her appearance, all under the guise of feminism.
While feminist leanings in the media are necessary-- and the Pantene ad is smartly crafted and on-point with the issues-- it’s true that it and ads like it subtly imply, “get ready to confront sexist stereotypes with your beauty.” The first shot of the video is a woman’s shiny pair of Louboutins, international symbols of sexy professionalism, and the last is a view of a woman’s gleaming head of hair with the slogan, “Be strong and shine.” That message is empowering, but here it operates in two ways: be strong and shine at work, but also get strong, shiny hair. The double-meaning is clever, but it also inextricably ties beauty with success.
In the end, this ad reinforces the idea that women need to step it up to look as professional as men. It tells us that the Pantene customer will look just as powerful as her male counterpart, who might not need to try so hard. Men’s grooming products have long been enticing men with images of the manicured professional. Discouragingly, women’s products don’t typically capitalize on the desire to succeed in the workplace, and it’s encouraging to see advertisers finally catching up with the times. That’s good marketing that appeals to modern women, but is it really feminist? What do you think? Let us know in the comments!