Is this an advertisement for hair products or a political message?

Screenshot 2013-12-11 18.05.29There’s been a bit of a flurry on the internets  and in the media about this advertisement (below) from Pantene in the Philippines. Many have questioned whether this is an advertisement for a hair product, or something bigger – perhaps a contribution to  feminist discourse. Some have even gone as far as suggesting it is the most powerful ad ever.

It certainly has the capacity to contribute to a discussion about the role of women in the workplace, and some of the entrenched difficulties that women have when compared to the way that men operate (and are rewarded). My brilliant colleague, Amanda Allisey, put it eloquently recently when arguing (on that great font of debate, Facebook) about the media’s portrayal of women, and how it influences social norms:

“discrimination against women is the maintenance of unequal power relations. This is achieved through restriction of access to means and resources for self-sufficiency such as equal pay. It is also achieved through a process of devaluing roles that women hold. This includes their participation in sports, the workplace and anywhere else for that matter.”

Indeed, notions of power, the patriarchal gaze and misogyny in the workplace are all valid interpretations to take from this particular advertisement.

But similar to the Dove “Campaign for Real Beauty”, Pantene is a commercial entity, owned by the corporate behemoth, Proctor and Gamble, trying to sell you stuff.

And the advertisement will probably work at some level. In this particular brand message, it’s about creating associations, rather than advertising the effectiveness of the hair product.

In a competitive marketplace, you want your target markets to have positive associations with your brand. If you like the ad, if you have some emotional connection, are goal oriented (you are willing to buy hair products), then you are more likely to choose the brand (all other things being equal). But the connection is subtle, which is probably the best kind of promotion.

It also doesn’t hurt to have an emotional message that you can send around on the intertubes with a hashtag #whipit

In a crowded marketplace, you’ve got to find other ways to cut through. So, yes, it does work. But not like lots of other haircare product advertising.

Now I’m off to cook dinner for my family – take that, sex-role stereotypes!

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