Google, Verizon, and Pantene are Using Ads to Empower Women – Are They Genuine?

July 14, 2014

10:30 am

It seems to be impossible to spend more than a few minutes online and not come across some sort of female empowerment quote, image, conversation (read: argument), or video. It’s about time that women receive equal treatment in America. We are far past the shortsighted discrimination that was rampant in our country and women deserve the unchallenged privileges that are extended to their male counterparts. There is no shortage of content on the Internet that speaks to women’s power, but not all of it is as genuinely intentioned as we may assume.

I recently came across a smartly-crafted video that depicts the different ways men and women are perceived when they are put in similar situations. The video, aptly called Labels Against Women, shows that when men are described as leaders, women are considered bossy. A man speaking with confidence is just that, while a woman is a “bitch.” A man working until late is considered noble, but a woman doing the same is considered selfish. The video executed its message with flawless visuals and an evocative soundtrack. As the video faded out after a brief 60 seconds, the credits slide appeared. Instead of a director’s name or cast list, there was simply the Pantene logo and a hashtag to spread the word.

The video that Pantene put out was not alone in its message and delivery. L’Oreal, a Pantene competitor in women’s body care, has its own feminist campaign, even its own foundation. Indeed, companies like Pantene and L’Oreal stand to directly benefit from promoting the interests of women. But it’s not just women-oriented companies that have made these efforts. Very similar to Pantene’s efforts, telecoms group Verizon has also released a short video with an identical ethos, Inspire Her Mind. These corporate efforts effectively bring attention to a serious matter, but it is doubtful that their only goal is so altruistic.

Innovative marketing directors have constructed these venture philanthropy-style marketing campaigns to reach their target clients or customers in a non-intrusive way. These campaigns help to create a brand around themselves that appeals to their customer. Instead of creating an advertisement that shouts “please buy our product,” companies are crafting campaigns that showcase the organization’s values and beliefs. This is especially an important strategy when catering to millennial customers who believe social responsibility isn’t optional.

Google’s Made w/ Code

Google recently announced a $50 million grant to help girls learn to code (see the video here). This is a hefty price to pay for a goodwill marketing and public relations campaign. Just by looking at the economics of this decision, it may not make sense that Google is shelling out this much cash believing it will increase revenues.

But it is a genius investment for the engineering department. It is no secret that finding qualified programmers is a difficult task. Moreover, Silicon Valley has of late been criticized for its gender biasedness. Google is sending a strong message on what it stands for. It is also investing in its potential future. These programs will teach students the programming that is desired by large software corporations and when the time comes for them to look for jobs, it won’t be surprising if they end up in Mountain View.

Some may question if this is truly the company’s motive or if it is genuine philanthropy. Goldman Sachs also granted a significant amount of capital to a partnership with the former professional women’s organization, 85 Broads. This organization, now run by former wealth manager Sally Krawcheck, connects female business leaders and prepares young women for the corporate world.

Every for-profit company is driven by duty to make money. Large corporations who leverage the fast-growing female empowerment movement to grow their own brand may not be acting with as pure intentions as they seem. Regardless, this action is not only acceptable; it is something that should be encouraged. This venture philanthropy approach eliminates the traditional zero-sum game. It is no longer a simple buy-and-sell transaction between only the company and the customer. Companies can improve their bottom line, customers can buy the products they want, and society improves with the addition of the value created by these transactions that could not exist in the traditional business world.


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Josh is the Managing Director of Indurit Holdings, a consulting, investments and management company. He is passionate about helping young companies and individuals create both social and economic value. Josh is also the founder and chairman of the National Student Initiative, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.

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