6 Female Empowerment Ads That Propelled Women Forward
The revolutionary ads that helped drive change for women.
For years, the advertising industry has been a reflection of current events. Devising approaches that resonate with their target audience, marketing campaigns play a big role in shaping our ideals and desires.
Brands everywhere have often pushed the need to adhere to beauty standards to sell more products and services. And quick to capitalize on damaging stereotypes, brands in the past often pushed harmful messaging — take these outdated ads from the 1950s and 1960s or any number of advertisements promoting inessential beauty products.
In the era of Mad Men, the industry began shifting. Conglomerates formed, TV ascended, and women and minorities began vying for career advancement in the advertising industry and beyond. From then on, some of the most forward-thinking campaigns launched, challenging outdated beliefs.
Here are six transformative marketing campaigns that sought to shift the narrative and propel women forward.
Rosie the Riveter
Westinghouse for the War Production Co-Ordinating Committee • 1942
The iconic and instantly recognizable “Rosie the Riveter” with her catchphrase “We Can Do It!” is undoubtedly one of the most iconic campaigns of the 1940s. Commissioned by manufacturer Westinghouse, artist J. Howard Miller created Rosie the Riveter, whose likeness would later become the Rosie we know today by illustrator Norman Rockwell. Designed as a call to action for women during World War II, the campaign’s goal was to inspire women to step into roles traditionally held by men while they were away at war. With very few working in the industrial labor force after the draft, Rosie the Riveter and her can-do attitude encouraged women to take on jobs and fill the gap left by the men.
Becoming a symbol for working women, Rosie the Riveter helped open women’s eyes to new career possibilities they might have never considered before the war. Women filled all kinds of new roles within the U.S. aircraft industry, seeing the highest increase of female workers — with women making up approximately 65% of the industry by the war’s end.
Today, Rosie is still a widely recognizable image symbolizing women’s empowerment and equality.
Who Says, ‘It’s a Man’s World’?
Trans World Airlines • 1953
In the post-World War II era, women were once again expected to take a step back, letting men return to the roles they filled during the war. Still fighting for equal pay and opportunity in the workforce, Trans World Airlines (TWA) recognized this in its “Who says, ‘It’s a Man’s World’?” campaign.
Depicting an image of the modern woman traveling without a man by her side, TWA successfully created messaging that resonated with women everywhere. With more independence than ever before, women wanted the freedom to fly solo.
A small but mighty step in the right direction, this campaign proved that yes, women still had a long way to go — however, more women began to broaden their horizons and take on roles and attitudes previously reserved for men. And thanks to TWA, “Women of all ages are going more places in the world today.”
Equal Pay. Equal Time.
Bulova Accutron • 1972
Fast forward nearly 20 years later, and the struggle for women’s rights continued — this time with much larger and more public movements. This campaign, launched at the time when the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) was gaining national attention, depicts unity between men and women.
The ERA’s main goal was to solidify equal legal rights for both men and women explicitly in the constitution, primarily over matters like employment, divorce and property. Reflecting the mass movement for the ERA’s ratification, watchmaker Bulova Accutron drove the point home that we all have the same number of hours in a day — so why shouldn’t we earn the same?
With equality as the campaign’s focal point, Bulova Accutron promoted a different understanding of equal rights and the ERA which often polarized men and women. Instead, they sought to shift the narrative by creating a spread that united men and women as one, encouraging men to join women in the fight for equal rights.
Ralph Lauren • 1980
Ralph Lauren’s iconic power suit advertisement might not seem all that revolutionary to us today, but in the early 1980s, it was a different story. Rarely seen in positions of power in the media, this campaign sent a clear message: that women can wear pants too! Seeing a woman in a suit embodying traditional masculine ideals in the workplace empowered women to step outside their comfort zone and envision themselves as their own boss.
The rise of the power suit also marked a shift in gender norms: Women began to venture into fashion trends previously dominated by men. No longer confined to dresses and skirts, the power suit gave women everywhere new standards of fashion, transforming the way they saw themselves in the workforce. Power dressing ultimately helped women see themselves in traditionally male-dominated spaces, with Ralph Lauren backing the rising trend.
Dove • 2013
With extremely high beauty standards commonly portrayed across media, it’s no surprise people often feel pressure to conform to a certain look — especially women. With women’s looks going in and out of style rapidly, mass media has skewed the self-image of millions of women across the globe.
Demonstrating just how influential the media can be on one’s self-esteem, Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign hosted an experiment to help spark self-reflection. Women were invited to draw a self-portrait while a professionally trained forensic artist drew them too.
The results? You guessed it: More often than not, the women’s self-portraits were inaccurate. Proving we truly are our own worst critic, the campaign saw multiple women highlighting their insecurities rather than how others perceived them. Dove’s campaign effectively showed how pushing beauty ideals can damage confidence and create lasting impacts on mental health.
Like a Girl
Always • 2014
The saying “like a girl” is notoriously derogatory to women, often used to belittle someone’s performance. The phrase sends women and girls everywhere a clear (and untrue) message: that women are weaker than men.
From a young age, girls are taught that their gender makes things more difficult than it would be for a boy. Of course, this is untrue — but young women tend to internalize this kind of talk and take it into adulthood. Statistically, seven out of ten young women often feel out of place in sports while 50% of young women feel intense fear of failure by the time they hit puberty, causing them to avoid trying new sports or activities.
Feminine hygiene company Always worked to flip this phrase on its head: What if doing something “like a girl” wasn’t an insult, but a compliment? Always began to spread messaging that encouraged kids everywhere to do things like a girl: strongly and confidently.
It was a powerful message. Always successfully drew attention to how damaging the saying can be to young women while also shifting the narrative, giving “like a girl” a more empowering meaning to women everywhere.
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