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Strong women, strong ads: Marketers target female empowerment [The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review :: ]
[August 16, 2014]

Strong women, strong ads: Marketers target female empowerment [The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review :: ]

(Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (PA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Aug. 17--Research shows the importance of reaching girls with positive images and messages between third and fifth grade.

That's a time when they often critique themselves and each other -- and their confidence levels drop.

Companies such as CoverGirl, Pantene, Under Armour and Always, as well as Lifetime television network, have recognized these challenges for young women and have developed marketing campaigns to combat negativity.

From highlighting the phrase "like a girl," to telling women to stop saying "sorry," to promoting all the things "girls can" do, these messages help raise strong girls into strong women.

The "Like a Girl" campaign by Always turns what was perceived as a negative into a positive, says Tonia Elrod, associate director of communications for Always. Through research, they've found puberty to be the time girls need help with confidence, and Always addresses this specific time in a girl's life.

"We hope to make a change," Elrod says. "We hope people join our movement and share what they do 'like a girl.' Always' message has always been about championing a girl's confidence.

"Words such as 'like a girl' can be harmful, so we chose to define 'like a girl' as a positive phrase," she says. "This is really something simple. We need to treat girls with respect because they have talents and strengths." Emily Papsin, 19, agrees. As one of the individuals featured in the Always video, she hopes for a day when things won't have to be recognized by gender.

"We won't have to say 'he' or 'she' did that," Papsin says. "We can say 'a person did that.' " Papsin, of Toronto, overcame adversity while playing ice hockey with boys.

"In my work as a documentarian, I have witnessed the confidence crisis among girls and the negative impact of stereotypes firsthand," says Lauren Greenfield, the filmmaker and director of the "Like a Girl" video. "When the words 'like a girl' are used to mean something bad, it is profoundly dis-empowering.

"I am proud to partner with Always to shed light on how this simple phrase can have a significant and long-lasting impact on girls and women," Greenfield says. " I am excited to be a part of the movement to redefine 'like a girl' into a positive affirmation." Papsin says being part of the video was cool because she feels people are one step closer to not needing to address something by gender.

"It's a very necessary step," Papsin says. "And sometimes you have to make it an issue to make it a non-issue." Papsin, a neuroscience major at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada, says she wasn't told what to say in the video, and nothing was scripted.

"So, I was really happy to be behind the message because it's my message and a message I believe in," she says. "It's not nearly the same if it's someone else's words." Procter & Gamble, maker of Pantene shampoo, has a campaign imploring women to stop saying "sorry." "The Pantene Shine Strong campaign celebrates strong women and empowers them to be strong and shine by helping them overcome bias that helps them reach their full potential," says Colleen Jay, president of Procter & Gamble global hair care and color.

"Our goal is to raise awareness of bias or societal expectations that might be holding women back and providing tools and campaigns to help affect change," Jay says.

She says she hopes these campaigns will resonate with women -- and men -- to inspire action and change for everyone. Pantene has partnered with celebrities such as Stacey London, Eva Mendes and Gisele Bundchen to get the message across about strong women.

It's essential to expose children to positives ideas, says Kelley Skoloda, a partner at Ketchum, Downtown, and author of "Too Busy to Shop," a business book on marketing to women and, more specifically, mothers.

One of the first of these ads was the Dove Real Beauty campaign, Skoloda points out.

"It was the start of marrying human truth with purpose," she says. "And this trend has emerged and grown and blossomed and is at an all-time high because these ads resonate with consumers, especially women and mothers." If something creates a positive firestorm, especially in social media, it's a good thing, Skoloda says.

But, she says, it's marketing and, at the end of the day, advertisers want to sell their product.

This strategy is resonating with people and getting them to think and talk about things they hadn't talked about before, Skoloda says. She says it's hard to quantify sales based on the success of the campaigns.

"These ads are grabbing people's attention," she says. "The more you see role models become part of your life, the easier it is to imagine yourself at that level. And along with that comes confidence." Beth Marcello, director of women's business development at PNC Bank, Downtown, says anything that puts a positive spin on successful girls and women is important to all females, who need to support each other and find female role models.

"PNC is committed to supporting women and girls because we need role models and we need to see that other women can achieve success," says Marcello, who also is the advisory council chair for Strong Women, Strong Girls, Pittsburgh.

"Girls will identify with other female mentors," Marcello says. "The thinking is changing, but there are times where we just automatically say something such as 'he does this' versus 'he or she' does this." There are mixed reactions to the ads from Sara Goodkind, associate professor of social work, sociology, gender, sexuality and women's studies at the University of Pittsburgh. The messages are great and offer inspiring messages about doing something like a girl as a positive thing, Goodkind says.

"It just gets complicated when you connect it with selling a product," she says. "Because their message is attached to a particular item. And the message can get confused." Seeing these types of advertisements can be a time for parents to discuss certain topics with their daughters and sons, says Meredith Guthrie, lecturer in Media and undergraduate adviser for the University of Pittsburgh.

"These companies are using girl power as a marketing tool with the ultimate message being 'Buy our product,' " Guthrie says. "We have to ask ... are they selling values along with selling us the product?" It is important that men embrace the messages, too, says Bob Gilbert, associate professor of business administration at the University of Pittsburgh.

"These ads are effective," he says. "They also target women who are decision-makers for many products. They are catching up to reality in the marketplace. They show real women and not super models. And it's about time that you can be a girl and that you can be strong." Sabrina Saunders, executive director of Strong Women, Strong Girls, Pittsburgh, agrees. She says it's important to expose girls to positive women who they can aspire to be like and look up to through these products.

"If there can be some positive images, it's great because there are so many negative images," Saunders says. "We have to work to increase ambition and self esteem. It's about being comfortable in your own skin. We need to pay attention to young girls." JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7889 or

___ (c)2014 The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) Visit The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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