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Little Women: How Cause-Driven Marketing Exploits Our Insecurities

My name’s Pippa, I’m a woman, and I’m confused.

Common, current marketing practice (at least in Europe) would undoubtedly attribute my confusion to my own self-doubts—a crippling insecurity that means I can no longer trust my own judgment and, more importantly, means I need the help of various brands to feel strong, confident and decisive again.

Let’s call this “The Dove Effect.” The moment its Campaign for Real Beauty launched, it became every brand’s dream to create a talking point, a piece of cause-driven marketing.

To be clear, I’m not confused because I don’t understand why brands would want to do this. I’m confused because I fail to see the true cultural, human drivers behind a lot of what’s happening—whether it’s my lackluster hair that supposedly means I have to keep apologizing or my jeans that talk abusively to me about the size of my waist and make try to make me feel bad.

I’m very much part of Gen Y—I grew up believing that being a woman wasn’t a hindrance to achieving whatever I wanted, whether that was boardroom prowess, maternal magnificence or something in the middle. So when did it all go so terribly wrong? When did things get so bad that I needed the help of my shampoo, my lipstick or my sanitary towel to throw off my oppressors?

The truth is that I don’t. But by making me (and other women) feel that I missed a vital piece of communication, a shift in societal norms, brands are guilty of creating false insecurities. We start to look around us and wonder if we’re getting something wrong. Just like when you see everyone running down the street, and you assume a lion must be on the loose so you’d better join in. It’s only when you stop and look around that you realize they were running for a bus you didn’t want to catch; but now it’s too late—you’re on it, and you can’t get off. Women who never felt they had to apologise for asking a question in a meeting because their hair wasn’t very shiny might start to think they ought to, because a brand is telling them it’s a problem.

And of course, that’s the point of marketing—to sell us stuff. But brands, let’s be brave. Not only is it impossible to link every brand or product targeted at women to a higher purpose, it’s unnecessary. Rather than tackling real causes, brands run the risk of engineering something meaningless and trite, leading to derision, as this excellent Dove parody by Above Average so cleverly illustrates:

So, my plea for the marketing industry would be to start thinking originally again. Here’s a radical idea—let’s start selling products on their merits (and spending real time and effort making sure they have some) instead of on the false empowerment they promise to deliver—ta dah!— to womankind.

Feeling belittled by all the cause-driven marketing toward women these days? Which brands do you think are the biggest offenders?

LPK Senior Strategy Director Pippa Nordberg believes in the power of distilling information into simply communicated big ideas to drive excellent creative. For more on how this sassy Londoner brings a spark of genius to LPK’s strategic work, email her at pippa.nordberg@lpk.com.

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