Inclusive advertising: how Lynx, Gillette, Carling & more changed tone

Bodyform: 'Blood normal', Gillette: 'The best a man can be', M&S: 'This is not just food...', Lynx: 'is it ok for guys...'

With consumers increasingly taking a dim view of sexist stereotypes, mainstream brands have had to rethink the tone of their marketing campaigns. The likes of Lynx, Gillette and Carling are just some of the major brands that are moving towards more inclusive advertising.

And it is not just changing societal attitudes that have given brands pause for thought, but the law too. Recently implemented advertising rules from the ASA take a hard line on issues such as gender representation in advertising, which has given brands further impetus to sharpen up their ad campaigns.

Here The Drum takes a look at the brands that have made some of the biggest shifts in tone from their previous ad campaigns towards more inclusive messaging.

Gillette

This is the campaign that cleaved social media in two, with one camp coming out in praise for Gillette’s messaging and the other deriding the legitimacy of the campaign.

The shaving brand has decided to move away from the all-American, clean-shaven and sharp-jawed male image that had dominated its advertising for years and focus the male gaze inward. Rejigging its ‘The best a man can get’ tagline and morphing it into “The best a man can be”, the ad encouraged men to question their actions and the culture that has shaped their identity.

Since the release of this initial ad, the shaving brand has continued the approach, featuring a trans-man in its latest spot. Despite these efforts, some critics point to Gillette’s Venus brand, which maintains its cliched and outdated female stereotypes, as a sign the company has not completely changed.

RAF

“Women should be defined by actions, not by cliches”; this is the battle cry of the RAF’s latest ad in an effort to challenge the gender stereotypes that persist in female advertising.

The spot incorporates the gendered language of beauty brands against the backdrop of women engaging in armed forces activity. The RAF presents the women in these ads as strong, empowered, and capable role models that cannot be limited by such restrictive language. In this way, the group underlines the highly sexist way in which ads are still marketed towards women.

Previously, the RAF has been guilty of not targeting its marketing towards women; in fact, the majority of its efforts are concentrated towards young men. Therefore, this ad marks a significant shift in the RAF’s marketing strategy, where it now looks to appeal to more women.

Bodyform

2018 was the year that periods were finally brought out of hiding and into the public eye, as brands did their bit to put an end to period shame. This cause was bolstered by the efforts of female sanitary products brand Bodyform and its revolutionary ad campaign that featured real period blood.

After years of sanitary towel and tampon ads that centered predominantly on the embarrassment of having a period and encouraging women to hide this fact as much as possible, Bodyform decided to let the public have it. The creative director was apparently inspired by a comment on social media which compared the covert way women have to pass tampons to one another to that of a Class A drug.

The ad itself is creative, imaginative and inspiring. This move away from the self-effacing habits of women towards their bodies ties in with a more global movement that encourages self-acceptance and self-love. A bloody good step forward from Bodyform.

Kleenex

Moving in a similar direction to former lad brands like Yorkie and McCoys, Kleenex has decided to remove language which excludes a gender from its packaging.

After conducting a survey which questioned consumers’ perceptions of Kleenex’s description of its largest and strongest tissues as ‘Mansize’, it decided to rebrand the product. Heeding feedback that customers find the language sexist, the tissue brand renamed the product ‘Extra-large’. A step in the right direction away from everyday sexism.

M&S

Marks & Spencer’s has long established itself among the UK's most luxurious high street food retailers. This is an image which has been built and bolstered by its ‘This is not just food…’ ad campaign, beginning in 2005. The slow-motion shots of food coupled with Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Albatross’ and the sultry overtones of a female voice describing the decadent food conveyed the luxury of the M&S brand. The commercials were dubbed "food porn".

The ad campaign was revived at the beginning of 2019, maintaining all the elements that made the run of ads so iconic but with a modern twist. Instead, we saw regular members of the British public going about their daily lives, before breaking into the signature M&S voiceover. Importantly, the relaunch of this ad campaign has a more accessible, almost self-mocking tone to it. This appears to be part of an overarching marketing change for M&S, where the high street brand is modernizing its image through pouring more effort into its social media and switching its creative agency.

Herbal Essences

Herbal Essences ads have been recognizable for years based on their tropical settings, scantily clad women and highly sexualized soundtrack. No doubt memorable, the shampoo brand decided to switch up its advertising campaign for something more meaningful.

In 2017, Herbal Essences released a four-minute long spot which focused on telling the stories of three women and how their decision to change their hairstyles had a huge impact on the rest of their lives. The three women featured are culturally and ethnically diverse and are not sexualized as the women previously featured in Herbal Essences ads. Moreover, their stories center around issues of bravery, development and self-realization, which places these women in a far more empowered position than previously seen. This ad is a complete departure from the brand's campaigns of old, revealing a shift in Herbal Essence’s advertising tactics towards something that resonates with more of the market.

Lynx

In ads throughout the early 2000s, Lynx deodorant was targeting its product firmly at the teenage boys and early twenties lads’ market. Aligning its advertising with a laddish humor, the campaigns starred models falling for average guys in a visualization of pre-pubescent fantasy. Playing on these gender tropes proved to be pretty popular and allowed the brand to become synonymous with schoolboy changing rooms.

Now Lynx has re-focused its creative; while it still concentrates on the experience of young men, it has found a more meaningful topics to concentrate on. The deodorant brand launched its ‘Is it okay for guys to…’ campaign in 2017 and challenged modern perceptions and concerns over masculinity. This move away from sexist banter did not isolate the product’s target audience but instead spoke to them in a more modern manner.

Carling

The British beer brand is moving its product away from traditional models of masculinity and is instead deconstructing the myths that surround these stereotypes. While its early ads focused primarily on laddish humor and settings and were set around a white, heterosexual bromance, its 2019 offering is more inclusive.

As part of Carling’s #MadeLocal campaign, its ad featured a trans woman led LGBTQ+ football team in order to represent a larger demographic of modern Britain. Not only does this ad celebrate Carling’s local community and the everyday people that make it up, but it serves as a snapshot of modern Britain.

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