Could “femvertising” awards be the on the cards in Australia?

Rachael Micallef
By Rachael Micallef | 23 July 2015

Female empowerment has come of age in advertising, with work falling under the term Femvertising – for a lack of a better word – becoming more prolific. Last week, the first-ever Femvertising Awards, for work that challenges gender stereotypes, was held in the US, with several of these ads honoured at a ceremony.

Over 60 campaigns were submitted with winners including Dove and Twitter's Speak Beautiful, P&G – Always's Like a Girl and Sport England's This Girl Can.

It's not the first of its kind either, with The Cannes Lions adding a new Glass Lion to its award categories this year, which celebrates work that shatters gender stereotype conventions.

But with moves being made abroad, it begs the question: does the Australian creative industry need these types of awards too?

VenusComms founder and creative director Bec Brideson told AdNews that she think initiatives like this help “move the needle” on gender equality.

“These types of initiatives are the things that are going to help to move the needle when it comes to the way that we're speaking about and to women, but I do think Australia is very much behind the rest of the world,” Brideson said.

“But the fact that the states are doing this is wonderful and I think that it doesn't take long before this type of initiative is developed here in Australia.”

While Brideson said it could be perceived as tokenistic, she said that by rewarding brands for thinking out of the box, it would push more brands to do more category breaking work.

“Sometimes these small steps are the thing that starts to induce change,” Brideson said. “The more it is on the agenda the more we can see the problem, address it and change it. One day I hope these awards wouldn’t be necessary because everything would have a much more equal perspective.”

Last year stock image company Getty Images unveiled its “Lean In” collection; a selection of images designed to provoke a new visual interpretation of women. Its director of visual trends Pam Grossman said the more brands that are celebrated and rewarded for promoting images of strong women, the more likely it is for this use of female imagery to stick. She said for this reason, female-skewed awards matter.

“The more we can celebrate and support these brands, the more likely we are to see more of this female-forward messaging be adopted at wider scale,” Grossman said. “Celebrating powerful females and telling their stories isn't a passing trend, it's a paradigm shift.”

“I hope [these awards] are just the beginning of those of us in creative industries collectively spurring on the envisioning of a more equal world for everyone.”

M&C Saatchi group strategy director Kate Smither said the reason why feminism has started to filter through advertising campaigns is likely a function of advertising tapping into cultural conversation. However Smither, who worked on Dove's 'Real Beauty Sketches', said she doesn't think the conversation needs to split out into a separate award ceremony.

“What I think is more interesting and from a Dove perspective, what we were certainly more interested in is what makes a social impact; so it's less about gender stereotypes and more about changing the way that people behave in a society or culture,” Smither said.

“It's a slightly nuanced way of thinking about it but I don't think it's a just a straight line between empowerment and women, it's taking on a barrier in society that stops people being their best.

“Any award show that celebrates brands making a social or causal impact at their core should absolutely be celebrated, but whether we need to split out and have female awards, I don't actually think we do.”

Reactive group account director Steph Webster, who also runs Melbourne arm of SheSays and new organisation MissCollective, said she agrees that the aim should be to have a level playing field where women-focused awards don't have to exist. However she said anything that promotes awareness is a positive.

“At the end of the day it's initiating some really interesting and positive discussions but obviously the goal should be that we don't have those awards; that it's just normal that we are challenging what the status quo is and that we do end up with a pretty level playing field,” Webster said.

“I do think advertising has a role to play. If we can use that to actually have a positive impact and generate a type of discussion then I think there is a place for it.”

Smither also agrees that advertising has a role in fuelling social discourse but brands that lead the discussion have to be authentic otherwise they can be jarring.

“I feel really grateful that brands are brave enough to do it because it needs to be less occasional and more constant, and advertising can do it,” Smither said.

“We really aren't just on the TV breaks any more. I think advertising needs to get into these types of cultural conversations because something needs to fuel them and advertising is probably most poised to do it.”

Grossman said when it comes to impacting society, “images matter” but she said brands moving into feminist territory is part of a wider movement of inclusive dialogue more generally.

“They influence our view of society, and change expectations of ourselves. These campaigns influence people’s perceptions, and when minds are opened, change is catalysed.”

“This is part of a global tilt towards becoming a more inclusive world overall. We’ve been seeing similar things happen with images of people in different ethnicities, sexualities and gender expression, physical abilities, ages; our idea of what's deemed “acceptable” is broadening rapidly.”

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