International Women’s Day: Campaigns that smash female stereotypes

gender stereotypes, vintage advertising featured

Femvertising is now pretty much mainstream, but when brands get female empowerment advertising right, it can be both inspiring and commercially effective.

In honour of International Women’s Day, We Are The City asked five senior women from marketing and technology to name an ad campaign which perfectly showcases female empowerment and to share their wish lists around boosting opportunities for women in their industries.

Lisa Mandell Waypoint Partners

Lisa Mandell, Partner, Growth and M&A Advisors Waypoint Partners

Even in a sophisticated sector like marketing, gender stereotypes still exist and while they do, they risk holding women back. Going forward, I want women in our industry to feel confident and empowered to promote their strengths, skills and expertise without worrying that their gender, age or looks will count against them. For this to happen, marketing leaders need to be more accountable for driving diversity and for committing to giving women the support, training and encouragement they need. I’d also love to see women continue to boost each other by offering to mentor more junior women and going into schools so that young girls can meet positive female role models.

If women are properly represented within the marketing industry, my hope is that this will increasingly be reflected in ad campaigns too. We need more marketing which celebrates real women, not the narrow, youth and beauty-obsessed representations that remain the norm. Sport England’s hugely successful This Girl Can campaign celebrates women of all shapes, sizes, ages and ethnicities enjoying sport on their own terms and is credited with narrowing the gender gap between men and women who exercise. “Fit Got Real” the latest ad in the series, aims to target women from lower-income backgrounds by showing women exercising at home or in the park and poking fun at the awkwardness of getting fit, such as getting changed on a beach. In keeping with the campaign as a whole, I love the ad’s humour, joie de vivre and empowering empathy with women – themes that chime well with International Women’s Day.

Charlotte Hamill Born Social

Charlotte Hamill, COO at social media agency Born Social

I like the undercurrent of Nike’s Serena Williams ‘Dream Crazier’ campaign. While it doesn’t reverse a gender stereotype, it reclaims ownership of the association between women and emotion, which is powerful and needed. Did I support Serena Williams’ behaviour at the 2018 US Open? No. But do I think the world needs to get used to seeing women with ego, expressing themselves? Absolutely, and Serena Williams is a fantastic face to attach to this message. Linked to the reason I like this ad, my wish for women in marketing is increased confidence. We need to see more women in the boardroom, the gender pay gap disappear and marketing that reflects a wider variety of women. These goals will all be achieved much sooner if women can put themselves out there with a healthy dose of BDE. Employers, leaders, colleagues, friends and family must all look for opportunities to build confidence in the women around them. When there are as many confident women as there are men, we can speak up for /nominate/ and include ourselves without waiting to be invited. Teach someone to fish…

Sarah Jennings Oban International

Sarah Jennings, CEO at digital marketing agency Oban International

I sometimes try and swap the gender roles in ads in order to imagine how that switch affects the communication. For example, I’d have found the current Macmillan campaign more compelling if I’d seen a woman worrying over the impact on her finances and one man hugging another to offer emotional support. I’d love a marketing world where we naturally include the broadest mix of people, rather than defaulting to tokenism or stereotypes.

Apart from that I want to see many more brilliant businesswomen in marketing (and other disciplines), expressing their unique perspectives and making their own contribution authentically and confidently.

That’s why I like Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier.’ The video showcases sports women smashing their goals and displaying the passion that got them there in the first place. Serena Williams is a fantastic champion who has faced and challenged discrimination and her endorsement only makes the campaign more powerful.

Zoe Kelleher Webcredible

Zoe Kelleher, Managing Director, experience design agency, Webcredible, part of Inviqa

When I think of who I’ve most loved working with over the years, I remember them not for their gender, but for their trust, humour, honesty and good communication. It would be amazing if all people could be judged on the skills, personality and strengths they bring to a role. None of these things are gender exclusive. For this to happen, we need companies to truly recognise that a diverse workforce fosters innovation, creativity and a great culture that people want to be part of. It contributes massively to the success of any workplace.

A recent campaign that I love is Women in Tech, which was launched to surface and share the stories of women doing amazing things in the tech space. In the UK in particular, tech has been very male dominated – this is changing but there’s a long way to go. And I’m really proud that Women in Tech is also the focus of our CSR at Inviqa for 2019. In the long-term, it shouldn’t be necessary to have gender specific campaigns but for now these are crucial in increasing awareness and eradicating stereotypes.

Melina Jacovou Propel London

Melina Jacovou, Founder & CEO, Propel London

Increased female representation in senior roles is something that many of us have been striving for. Among my top wishes is that we have more women in decision-making positions, up to board level, who are recognised and rewarded equally. Companies that are diverse and fully inclusive are much stronger and are proven to be more successful. I’d also like to see more support for women across all forms of diversity – economic, disability, people of colour, LGBT – plus, not only for those who have reached the upper levels of the career ladder.

It’s hugely encouraging to see so many ads now helping to challenge negative perceptions about women. The RAF’s No Room For Clichés recruitment campaign is a great example. I love the way it spoofs the patronising, gendered approach marketers have tended to use to sell to women by juxtaposing cliched lines from familiar sanpro/skincare/haircare ads with gritty images of women at work for the RAF. Well done to the RAF for inverting its male heritage and championing women in a way that’s both provocative and entertaining.

About Waypoint Partners

Waypoint Partners is the leading growth and M&A advisory firm, working globally with shareholders and their leadership teams in the creative, marketing and technology sectors to grow and realise value.
We’re all former business leaders, M&A advisors and associated specialists, offering what we consider to be a unique perspective on driving and realising value.
We’ve worked with over 200 businesses across the UK, Europe, U.S. and Asia. We have offices in London, Edinburgh and New York.
For more information about Waypoint Partners and how we help businesses, contact [email protected] or visit

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