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Female Empowerment Ads: Why Execution is More Important than Theme

This article was featured in MediaPost.

Written by Rebecca Sandidge, published August 29, 2019

The days of ads featuring women solely in the context of the kitchen or the home are gone. Today, if you turn on your TV or stream a show on your device, you will most likely see an ad that features women in non-traditional roles. In the current media landscape, we have been noticing a growing trend of advertisements that put a strong emphasis on female empowerment, especially in the wake of the Women’s World Cup. Team USA made great strides in putting a spotlight on strong women and pushing the boundaries of how women both celebrate and are celebrated in the media. From media heavyweights like Nike and Kellogg’s to lesser-known TV advertisers like Bumble or The Girl Scouts, it seems everyone is jumping on the female empowerment bandwagon to take advantage of this expanding movement.

While some brands relied heavily on the theme itself to carry their advertising (which were met with mixed results), others paired their ads with relatable subjects and unique themes, which enabled them to successfully break through to audiences. Based on an ad analysis conducted by the experts at Phoenix Marketing International, two campaigns emerged as examples of great execution of a trendy creative approach: Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ and Special K’s ‘Women are Amazing’. These two brands both had great success in either Breakthrough or Copy Testing, but achieved it in different ways.

Relate to the Ladies

Special K’s campaign performed at higher than normal indexes for Brand Memorability, and (unsurprisingly) performed higher among women than men. This was due in part to the high amount of resonance that the audience had with the ad. By showcasing a broad spectrum of women (mothers, business owners, students, athletes, etc), audiences felt a genuine connection to the ad, especially when it showed various situations that women could relate to. According to data from Phoenix Brand Effect, the ‘Women are Amazing’ campaign performed 53% higher in Breakthrough, compared to the Special K historical brand norm. The campaign performed at a high level early in flight, which suggests that the creative execution itself was memorable. By effectively relating to their audience and increasing the number of media placements, the ‘Women are Amazing’ campaign left a strong impression, and made us want to start eating cereal for breakfast again.

Make a Statement

On the other hand, Nike, commonly known for inspirational sports ads and sleek messaging, took a slightly different approach to their advertising campaign. Instead of simply showing a montage of female athletes competing and flashing pretty smiles, Nike highlighted the trials and tribulations that females in athletics had to endure over the years, and the strength they are able to draw from it. The ad calls out and later challenges common misconceptions and assumptions about women in sports. Paired with strong imagery and a voiceover by sports legend Serena Williams, it left a powerful impact on viewers.

According to data from Phoenix’s AdPi Quickview, the informative appeal of the ad performed 36% higher than the database norm among females, illustrating that audiences felt that the ad was believable and appropriate for the times. With Team USA celebrating their fourth Women’s World Cup Championship, making headlines not only for their power on the field but in demanding equal pay, the ad appeared very topical and ignited hearts and minds.

Good, but Not Quite Ready for Everyone

Of the five total CPG female empowerment brand campaigns that Phoenix studied, proper execution allowed campaigns such as Special K’s to perform significantly higher than norm in-market. While not all the ads performed this strongly relative to the database, four out of the total five ads performed higher among women than men. The key seems to be to celebrate female empowerment when the goal is specifically to target women, but if men are also part of the target, then try to incorporate a strategy that is a bit more universal.

Relative to their respective norms, males had Breakthrough that performed about the same or slightly below, while females were 16% above their norm, according to data from Phoenix Brand Effect. In fact, this difference in performance was not limited to only Breakthrough. At varying levels, Brand Linkage, Brand Memorability, and Likeability were also seen to have similarly higher relationships with their norms for females when compared to males. From this, we are able to conclude that utilizing a female empowerment theme can better target and impact a female-specific audience, but does not necessarily guarantee success across the board.

One reason in particular that these ads performed higher among women than men is due to the ads’ heavy use of relatability. Seeing characters on-screen that audiences could directly relate to helped women connect more to the narrative, which helped Special K to break through more to women in direct comparison to men.

So, where does this leave us?

It’s no secret that the trend of featuring female empowerment in advertising is on the rise, driven by the higher prominence of women in sports, media, and politics. Many brands have noticed, and are taking full advantage by creating ad campaigns that feature empowered women in order to tap into this growing market. Brands such as Kellogg’s and Nike demonstrated that while relying on the theme alone is not enough, integrating a strong creative strategy can enable brands to successfully break through.

If advertisers want to make a strong impact on audiences with ads that feature female empowerment, it all comes down to execution. Choosing relevant and informative material that audiences can relate to is essential to achieving maximum Breakthrough. Otherwise, the ads will be met with indifference or cynicism, and do little to drive the message of the brand, or female empowerment as a whole.

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