When Women’s Empowerment Themed Advertisements Become a Call to Action

Emotive advertising works best. In fact, adverts that stimulate an emotional response are said to be eleven times more effective than rational campaigns. Viewers stay tuned to a commercial that takes them on an emotional roller-coaster, and many brands exploit this. Add in a creative storyline and an overarching narrative about women’s empowerment, and it seems we have a formula for success. Women drive 70 – 80% of purchasing decisions, and so as consumers are not only more likely to buy the product or service, but also to favourably associate the featured brand with the chosen call to action or social justice campaign.


Indian advertising gurus lead the way in adverts featuring gender equality issues, especially as they are masters at grabbing the viewer’s attention from the get-go. #FitToFight by Reebok India, #YourSecondHome – Preganews, Dove with #StopTheBeautyTest, Save the Child with #AllyUpforHer – all these hashtags and commercial series have gone viral because they tell stories people can relate to.

And there are a lot of stories to tell; according to the 2021 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, India has slipped 28 places to now rank 140 out 156 countries in terms of equal opportunities for women. The narratives in Indian adverts give the viewer hope for a better future; maybe not depicting a huge leap to total gender equality, but at least offering a glimpse of the better life that small steps in the right direction could lead to, with poignant sketches of the employer who takes care of her pregnant maid, the tailor who spots a potential child marriage, and the mother and daughter-in-law who team up to teach their son/husband that women do not belong just in the kitchen.

The list of thought-provoking ads on Indian TV is endless, but one company has gone further than any other. Dabur Vatika launched the emotive #BraveandBeautiful campaign as a salute to cancer survivors. The slogan ‘Some People Don’t Need Hair to Look Beautiful’ was a bold move for a hair products company, but gained them millions of admirers globally and has encouraged people touched by cancer to share their stories. Thanks to Vatika, challenging the erosion of confidence caused by chemotherapy hair loss has became a rallying cry for those brave women warriors battling cancer.

Saudi Arabia

On 26 September 2017, King Salman issued a statement recognising the right of Saudi women to drive. Since female driving licences were first issued on 24 June 2018, 175,000 new licences have been issued in the kingdom (85% of which were for Saudi females).

Coca Cola was one of the first brands to seize the opportunity to align their campaign with this event and, just weeks after the King’s announcement, aired a new advert featuring a Saudi dad teaching his daughter to drive. The ‘Change has a Taste’ campaign split opinion; some praising the brand for their pro-feminist position, others regarding it as shameless profiteering by the soft drinks company – accusing them of jumping on the feminist bandwagon.

Either way, Coca Cola created a lot of buzz around their brand at a historic moment, and paved the way for others. In 2018 Audi released a short film showing a thirty-something married couple leaving their house to go out somewhere. The husband (like a true gentleman) holds open the front door for his wife. He is then taken slightly aback when she, in turn, steps in to hold the car’s passenger door open for him, and places herself in the driver’s seat. As she accelerates away, the strapline ‘Time to Open New Doors’ appears. With this door metaphor, Audi subtly appealed to a new (and rapidly growing) market segment – female drivers.

Porsche were more daring, sponsoring the ‘Drive Defines Her’ series of short films celebrating the success of female leaders across the Gulf region, highlighting their accomplishments in male-dominated professions.


Two-thirds of women in Japan feel they lack equality with men and are denied the freedom to fulfil their dreams (Forbes, 2017). The new Nike clip shows a pregnant mother and her family learning that they will soon be welcoming a baby girl into their lives. Their immediate joy quickly turns sour as the ad reminds us (through a series of flashbacks) of the downsides of being a woman in Japan, with the most prominent scene showing that a woman is allowed into the business meeting room, but is not allowed to speak.

“Growing up a girl in Japan used to mean one thing. Now it can mean everything. So, what do you want to do?” Professional sportswomen and women activists star in Nike’s ‘Play New’ commercial, encouraging women to break the glass ceiling.

Whether Nike gained much goodwill from their attempt to push the gender equality agenda is debatable, as the company had, only a short while before, courted controversy with an advert touching on racism in Japan, and public opinion was not in their favour. When this latest advert hit screens, many accused the company of cultural insensitivity and there were even calls for a boycott of Nike products. How concerned Nike executives were about this is not known, but they certainly managed to kickstart a debate about gender norms in Japanese society.


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