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Beauty and The Beast of Advertising

With research suggesting that 88 per cent of UK women believe brands and the media are putting too much pressure on them, Southpaw has created a counter-movement for Sanctuary Spa encouraging women to ‘let go’. Niki Macartney, strategy director at Southpaw, explains the thinking behind the campaign.

In 2015, women are being exposed to more messages of female empowerment than at any point in human history. On a daily basis, it seems, we witness brands, media, people like us, talking the language of female empowerment communications, or ‘fem-com’ for short. In fact, the last two years have marked a cultural cornerstone in the way women are being celebrated in the media for the things they do and the potential they have within.

From a marketing perspective, there are obvious campaigns such as Dove Beauty Sketches, the #LikeaGirl campaign from Always and Pantene’s #ShineStrong. In addition, we’ve seen Sport England empowering women to get moving, fashion zeitgeister Karl Lagerfeld staging a feminist rally on the Chanel runway, GoldiBlox on a mission to inspire the next generation of female engineers and the launch of ‘Entrepreneur Barbie’ last summer, as well as household favourites such as Nike, Sure and Beyonce running fem-com flavoured campaigns. And as I write this, Ronda Rousey’s ‘Don’t be a #DNB’ is trending (a do-nothing bitch), which I guess replaces the ‘Strong is the new Skinny’ social media fetish of last year.

So, you can’t be in any doubt that we are in an era of intense female empowerment and fem-com is big business. Women and young girls are being encouraged to lean in, to be strong and to redefine our notions of success. This engine for change feels unstoppable. It’s a wonderful acknowledgement that women are in the driving seat. It’s also the ‘beauty of advertising’, which, when played right, can create kinetic growth and positive change.

Under pressure

So what’s the flip side? Where does ‘the beast’ come in? It’s a truth that advertising sells concepts of what’s normal and what we should be. What are these admired brands, celebrities and institutions telling women everyday? They’re telling them that they should never accept mediocrity, that they should push themselves to the limit every day, to give until there is nothing more to give, to make history, to be ambitious, to be strong, to change the world. It’s exciting but, wow, it’s too much. Surely this isn’t what normal looks like?

Recent research we conducted with Sanctuary Spa revealed that 88 per cent of UK women believe that brands and media are putting too much pressure on them to be perfect. Four in every 10 women feel that they’re about to burn out – that could be as many as 12 million women in the UK today.

The great irony of fem-com media campaigns is that the pressure to be an all-conquering superwoman is actually limiting us. It’s no wonder then that 62 per cent of women felt that their lack of ‘me time’ holds them back in life. Fem-com is portraying an ideal that’s hard to live up to, piling on the pressure to do more, give more, be more. It’s not healthy. As Arianna Huffington puts it, it’s placing women on the ‘Heart Attack Highway to Stress City’. It’s time for an acknowledgement that too many messages of empowerment are not necessarily a good thing.

Letting go

The research we carried out with Sanctuary Spa led the team at Southpaw to an interesting conclusion. It is increasingly clear that we need to achieve a new balance in the world of female empowerment communications. It’s time to challenge the perception that success is defined by being busy, by leaning in and being a superwoman.

Instead, we need to inspire women that success and wellbeing lie in stepping back every now and again, appreciating those moments and letting go. It’s the start of an important new era for fem-com. This shouldn’t be about stopping women’s fight for equality but instead be about recognising the need to relax the pressure we’re putting on women, to empower them to let go. This should become the new normal.

This was the thinking which underpinned our work with Sanctuary Spa. Together, we’ve created a campaign – #Letgo – which sets out to inspire and empower women to strive for balance in their lives.

On a personal level, as a female marketing professional, it’s been great to be closely involved in setting the strategy for a campaign that helps to redress the balance of fem-com messaging and ease the pressure being felt by modern women.

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