The Evolution of Women in Advertising

November 2, 2023

In the early days of advertising, the portrayal of women was limited to certain roles and stereotypes. Advertisements painted a picture of the “ideal” woman – one who was primarily a domesticated housewife and was only concerned with their husband, beauty and household chores. The representation of women in these early advertisements was narrow and often did not reflect the true diversity and capabilities of women in society. 

For example, advertisements of the mid-20th century frequently showcased women rejoicing over the latest kitchen appliances or being overly concerned about keeping their laundry clean, while the numbers of women showcased in roles outside the home or in leadership positions were significantly fewer These images perpetuated certain societal norms where women’s worth was measured by their beauty or their ability to maintain a perfect home.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the narrative has shifted dramatically within the advertising industry. National advertisers have now placed a stronger emphasis on campaigns that feature women in varied roles, breaking away from the shackles of outdated stereotypes. Brands today recognize the power, influence and potential of women and are keen on portraying them as independent, strong and multifaceted individuals. 

The modern woman is not confined to any particular role – she’s an entrepreneur, an athlete, a mother, a scientist, a leader and so much more. Despite these advancements, gender inequality still persists in some areas, pushing advertisers to be more conscious and intentional in their portrayals. Many are even taking up leadership positions in what was once a male-dominated field.

Advertisements now focus on uplifting and inspiring women. Campaigns like Dove’s “Real Beauty” challenged conventional beauty standards and celebrated women of all shapes, sizes, and ethnicities. Nike’s campaigns showcase female athletes breaking barriers, while brands like Always have initiated conversations about menstruation and breaking taboos with their “#LikeAGirl” campaign.

Let’s dive into some campaigns that have significantly altered the narrative in advertising.

Heineken – Cheers to all

women in advertising in Heineken's Cheers to All Commercial

In 2009, Heineken aired a commercial suggesting beer was primarily a “man’s drink.” However, as times have changed and our society has evolved, so did Heineken’s perspective. In 2020, the brand took a fresh approach with its campaign titled “Cheers to all.” 

This ad showcased a series of scenes flipping traditional roles: men were seen enjoying drinks typically associated with women, like fancy cocktails, while women confidently opted for beer. Through this, lighthearted campaign, Heineken aimed to challenge and break down gender stereotypes.

Maud Meijboom, Heineken Brand Development and Communications Director, said:

“The idea for this campaign was inspired by real-life experiences that everyone can relate to.

Breaking down these stereotypes involves acknowledging them and we wanted to do this in an entertaining way through our hero film. We want to remind people around the world that everyone should feel free to enjoy the drink they prefer so we created ‘Cheers to All’.”

Nike – Dream Crazier

women in advertising in Nike's Dream Crazier commercial

The “Dream Crazier” ad by Nike is a tribute to the spirit of female athletes. Narrated by tennis superstar Serena Williams, the ad takes us through the challenges and biases that women in sports often face. From the early days of women’s participation in competitive sports to the modern day, it provides snapshots of moments when female athletes defied the odds, only to be labeled as “emotional,” “hysterical,” or “crazy.” 

The impact of “Dream Crazier” went further than just another commercial break. It resonated deeply with audiences worldwide, sparking conversations about gender biases. The ad’s message encouraged women everywhere to embrace their “crazy” dreams and aspirations, challenging societal norms and redefining what’s possible in sports and beyond. 

Orange France’s World Cup commercial

women in advertising in Orange France's World Cup Commercial

This ad was created to challenge and confront the gender bias in football aka soccer, especially during major tournaments. By cleverly using VFX technology, the ad tricks viewers into thinking they’re watching highlights of famous male footballers, only to reveal that the true stars are the women of the French national team, Les Bleues.

The campaign’s brilliance lies in its unexpected twist and its ability to challenge preconceived notions about women’s football. By initially hiding the identities of the female players behind the personas of their male counterparts, the ad makes a statement about the overshadowing of women’s achievements in the sport and the general perception of audiences. 

The message is clear: the women’s team is just as capable of delivering thrilling moments and evoking strong emotions as the men’s team. It has successfully gained attention and initiated discussions around the appreciation of women’s sports, making it an important campaign in promoting gender equality in football.

These campaigns are more than your average advertisements; they are catalysts for conversations, challenging perspectives, and pushing for a more inclusive world. The cool thing about advertising is that it isn’t just about influencing purchasing decisions anymore but about shaping cultural narratives. Brands have recognized the significance of this responsibility and are crafting campaigns that resonate, inspire, and advocate for progress.

If you’re looking for a marketing partner who can help your brand’s message resonate authentically and powerfully with your audience, consider reaching out to COHN. We’re here to make sure your voice stands out in a meaningful way.

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