Yes, Always’s ‘Like a Girl’ Campaign Is Great—but It’s Also Deceptive

Award-winning director Lauren Greenfield’s latest video builds a simple and sobering message around the idiomatic insult “you like a girl.” The woman behind The Queen of Versailles interviews grown men and women and a young boy to act out what it means to run, throw, or fight “like a girl.” She then compares their overly weak and flouncy physical displays to the admirably ferocious way pre-adolescent girls act out the expression. The contrast makes it all too clear how young women lose self-esteem the more they grow up and hear “like a girl” as a derogatory statement.

And then, as this short but powerful video progresses, you’re hit with the message “Join us to champion girls’ confidence at Always.com.” Excuse me, Always? You mean the Procter & Gamble Co. entity, the self-described maker of “feminine” products, is now claiming to lead the battle cry for empowering young women?

People are rushing to praise Always’ latest ad. Yes, it’s far more appealing on the surface to have pads and tampons promoted as somehow part of a larger goal to change the meaning of “like a girl.” But the campaign is shamelessly emotionally exploitative. It demonstrates real problems—femaleness as a derogatory statement, decrease in self-confidence as women mature—in a beautiful and clear way, but then pretends a corporate manufacturer of panty liners meant to “help you feel fresh ever day” can solve them.

Always’ campaign is part of a new advertising trend in menstrual products. Gone are the commercials based around being discreet and hiding the fact that you’re menstruating. Period shame is out and empowerment is in. Amanda Hess at Slate laments that “it’s a little sad that all of this enthusiasm for women’s stories are leading us directly to a box of maximum protection wings, while female filmmakers and characters are still so underrepresented at the box office.” However, the “feminine” product industry was long in need of a revamp. If creative, intelligent women want to help improve it, then right on, sister.

But the self-righteous tone of Always’ “Like a girl” campaign is irritating, perhaps because the noble message has nothing to do with the product, tampons, panty liners, pads. Yes, I get that Always is attempting to build large, overarching connections between girls getting older and losing self-esteem. But how exactly are the products Always is hawking going to do that? If Always is going to peg a giant message about self-confidence without any actual mention of menstruation in the commercial, it seems somewhat deceptive.

The more successful campaigns to challenge the feminine product conventions actually acknowledge what they are selling. Bodyform’s 2012 ad mocking the “blue liquid” symbolism was so charming and refreshing because it directly presents one of the industry’s most ridiculous practices—and recognizes the criticism for such a silly euphemism. HelloFlo’s 2013 Camp Gyno video was flat-out brilliant because it actually showed an age-appropriate girl getting her first period (shocker) and dared to actually mix humor with menstruation. Fake blood even spurts out of a Dora the Explorer doll. HelloFlo’s recently launched First Moon Party is even more fantastic.

These advertisements don’t make bold philosophical messages about what it means to be a woman—and that’s OK. In fact, they are more admirable and successful because they take on the smaller, but concrete challenges of dealing with the reality of menstruation. For young women, it can still be difficult to talk about their periods; they may feel embarrassment and confusion surrounding it, especially when they first get it. The feminine product industry has helped create that shame surrounding menstruation, but it is also in the best position to destroy it. However, that’s not by claiming a specific type of tampon helps build self-confidence.

Because it fails to mention it’s, you know, selling a menstrual product, Always’ “Like a girl” seems more like the clever, but completely contrived Virginia Slims’ “You’ve come a long way, baby” campaign. The famous 1960s campaign attached cigarettes to a mainstream-friendly version of Women’s Liberation. While it clearly does not have the same detrimental health effects of Virginia Slims, Always also attempts to attach itself to some larger movement feminist-minded movement, and as a result, it rings false and disingenuous.

Snaps to Always for claiming it wants to improve young girls’ self-esteem. But until the company shows me how it is actually helping to do that, I am sticking to off-brand tampons.

Always, Procter & Gamble, and Leo Burnett

Categories: Cultural Shift/Social Branding/Brand Evolution

The issue: ‘Nobody will ever share anything that has the Always logo on it.’ Who would want to be associated with periods? A great idea proved that you can make a feminine-hygiene brand more popular. But it was no easy task. Sanitary pads are a low-involvement category. Women don’t want to spend even a second thinking about it, as periods are already enough of a pain.

Communication has also traditionally been quite unengaging, with a focus on product performance and demos. For a long time Always led the category around the world, thanks to constant innovation and the superior performance of its products. With time, though, functional differentiation between brands narrowed. Competitors also started to engage young women at a more emotional level and to connect with them on social media. The result was that Always lost relevance with the 16- to 24-year-old age group. This was a big issue in a category where, research shows, women tend to stay very loyal once they find a brand they like. To reconnect with its young consumer base Always had to stand for more than just protection. Product communication simply would not do.

Moving away from product confidence

Confidence is at the core of the Always brand equity. We had always communicated it in a functional way, promising women to fix a physical problem, so that they could be more confident during their period. So confidence in the product led to self-confidence. Yet this logic was exactly what women were starting to reject. Confidence was an issue they were increasingly sensitive about, but a pad certainly could not solve it. If we were to stay within this territory, we had to move from a rational proposition to a much more emotional one. We explored confidence further and we discovered that puberty is a time affected by a real confidence crisis for girls, as shown by the graph below:

Girls’ self-esteem drops twice as much than boys’ during puberty. Moreover, women never regain the pre-puberty level of self-esteem. Understanding why this happens was key. Even reducing the drop a bit would mean allowing girls to start the ‘journey into womanhood’ from a better place.

Finding an enemy

Digging deeper into the causes of the drop in confidence we realised that gender stereotypes have a big impact on girls during puberty, as this is the time when they learn what it means to be a girl, and young womanhood comes to be defined by a set of rules, like beauty and submissiveness. Society constantly dwells on gender differences, sending out the message that leadership, power and strength are for men, not for women. And that boys should be raised not to be a girl, as if being female was ‘not good enough’. These stereotypes inevitably crystallise into girls’ self-perceptions and affect their behaviours.

We could change that.

The idea and creative work

Our creative insight was that gender stereotypes are so ingrained in our culture they are even part of the language. The expression ‘like a girl’, in fact, is often used as an insult to tease somebody who is weak, over-emotional or useless. And at a time when identities are already very fragile, it can have a devastating effect. To demonstrate this, we created a social experiment, holding a fake casting-call with young women and men, boys and girls. We asked them to do things ‘like a girl’, for example to run or fight like a girl. Women, boys and men behaved in a silly and self-deprecating way, acting out the insulting stereotype. But prepubescent girls reacted completely differently. They ran and fought as hard as they could, with confidence, pride and incredible self-belief. They had clearly not been influenced yet by the ‘rules’ that define womanhood; for them, doing something ‘like a girl’ meant doing it as best as they could.

Getting #LikeAGirl out in the world

We had a powerful insight that resonated universally, and one piece of content able to bring the whole story to life. Hence we decided to focus solely on the video, and maximise views and reach. To affect culture, we harnessed the power of social media. We chose YouTube as the main vehicle and ran the video as a pre-roll, accompanied by paid Facebook and Twitter posts, paid reach and influencer outreach.

To drive participation, we leveraged the hashtag #LikeAGirl as a call to action and asked women to tweet the amazing things they do ‘#LikeAGirl’. We also created a #LikeAGirl page, hosted on Always.com, to serve as a campaign hub. Furthermore, the campaign included PR/ER activation through e-influencers and top media. Finally, a 60 seconds version of the video aired during the 2015 Super Bowl

The details

What we did and why?

For many years Always has had ‘confidence’ at its core, but expressed this only in functional terms (“won’t let you down”). While this trust remained important, it became insufficient to maintain relevance among younger women, increasingly drawn to brands that also engaged them emotionally. We needed to extend the meaning of ‘confidence’ into emotional territory. Our exploration led to the discovery that puberty is a time of confidence crisis in girls and that gender stereotyping through language plays a big role. This is exemplified by the use of the phrase ‘like a girl’ as an insult, implying that simply being female means whatever a young woman does is not good enough. So, we created a campaign that challenged the use of this poisonous and damaging expression, redefining it in a new, inspiring way, and using social media and PR to spread the message.

What was the cultural impact of this activity and why did the work matter?

The video has been viewed more than 90m times and shared by over 1m viewers. Men and women all over the world joined the brand to help reclaim ‘like a girl’ as a positive statement. During the campaign use of the #LikeAGirl hashtag skyrocketed on social media and also in the real world, including displays and programmes at schools and even chalkboards outside Manhattan coffee shops, all proudly stating to do things #LikeAGirl. Many celebrities took on the hashtag and lauded Always. Before the campaign, the expression ‘like a girl’ was mostly used in a derogatory way. Since the launch, it’s been attached to overwhelmingly positive sentiment, becoming a symbol of female empowerment around the globe. Even the UN acknowledged the power of #LikeAGirl: in March 2015 Always received an award for the impact it had on female empowerment around the world.

How we measured its success?

We had four key objectives: drive relevance with an emotional connection to Always; drive popularity through top of mind awareness; increase penetration; and create cultural change.

The #LikeAGirl campaign succeeded on all fronts. Positive sentiment reached 96% in just three months, with mentions of general praise and love for the message and the brand. Engagement on social media was very high and Always Twitter followers and YouTube Channel subscribers increased dramatically.

#LikeAGirl was watched more than 90m times and was the number two viral video globally. It also drove unprecedented earned-media coverage. Furthermore, purchase intent and brand preference increased significantly as a result of the campaign. Finally, millions of people, including many celebrities like Gloria Steinem and George Takei, joined Always in its mission to change the meaning of the expression ‘like a girl’, turning it into a symbol of female empowerment all over the world.

Results

90m+ views; number two viral video globally1 .

1100+ earned-media placements and 4.4bn+ media impressions in the first three months.

Always Twitter followers tripled in the first three months; Always YouTube Channel subscribers grew 4339%

177,000 #LikeAGirl tweets in the first three months, including many celebrities.

Higher-than-average lift in brand preference; claimed purchase intent grew more than 50% among our target.

In a study conducted in December 2014, almost 70% of women and 60% of men claimed that “The video changed my perception of the phrase ‘like a girl'”.

Related content: Forget the WAGs at the Allan Border medal. How about our female cricketers?

Argues it’s not a negative image – it is showing what actually happens in a clean game of women’s sport.

Ellis disagrees with Squiers. Image via Liz Ellis Facebook.

“A bruised and bloodshot left eye the result of a clash in training a couple of days before the ad was shot,” Ellis explains in the SMH article.

“Sharni was offered makeup to cover the bruising when the ad was made. She declined on the premise that there was no reason to do so, as the bruising was the result of a clash in training and that is simply how she looks,” Ellis wrote.

As any women who has been an athlete or played a team sport knows, there’s a good chance you will get injured – and you deal with the pain because you are tough.

Related content: More devastating news for women in sport.

Ellis makes one final powerful point:

“To draw a line between this image and a domestic violence campaign is unfair to both, and suggests sadly that we live in an age when the assumption can be made that when a woman is bruised she is a victim.”

This campaign says is that when a woman is bruised after a sporting match it is because she is tough, fierce, fiery, determined and strong. She plays ‘like a girl’ because she gives her all on the sporting field – and, like in any enterprise where you give everything, sometimes you end up bruised.

We can look at this image and think: wow, she’s tough, she’s determined and she’s someone I want my children to look up to.

What do you think about the ad?

And in other sporting news this week…

– Queensland netballer, Verity Simmons will be sidelined for up to eight weeks because she sustained a fracture on her left wrist during a round 2 game. The Firebirds Wing Attack is staying optimistic and is happy that she doesn’t require any surgery. Simmons was initially told the injury would be the end to her season, so now eight weeks doesn’t seem too bad. We hope she gets better soon.

– The Matildas have won their fourth game in the soccer Cyprus Cup, beating the Czech Republic 6 – 2. The huge win shows just how strong our Australian women’s soccer team is. This is the women’s third win out of four games so far. It has put the Matildas in fifth place for the tournament. Keep up the good work.

– There are allegations that members of the British Army shouted sexist abuse at Australian female soccer players during a game against England in the Cyprus Cup last week. The Football Association have said they’re willing to investigate the incident. England beat the Australian Matildas 3-0 in Nicosia on Friday. Allegedly, English supporters who attended the game have said that the troops mostly targeted Servet Uzunlar in addition to the Aussie subs when they removed their tracksuits to take the field. It’s disgusting behaviour, and shows that sexism in sport still exists.

P&G asked kids what it means to do something ‘like a girl’ — here’s what they said

Procter & Gamble’s popular “like a girl”commercial is hugely popular with the Super Bowl audience.

Feminine hygiene brand Always asked a group of adults and teens to act out what it means to do something “like a girl.” The ad premiered online in June and received 80 million views.

On video, their responses sadly showed the negative things people associate with being a “girl.”

Here’s one woman “running like a girl:” YouTube/Always

This man’s “fighting like a girl” is particularly awful:

YouTube/Always

But when Always asked young girls to do things “like a girl,” they were refreshingly ignorant of the negative connotations surrounding the phrase.

Here’s what they think it means to “run like a girl”: YouTube/Always

Another girl shows off a fighting pose: YouTube/Always

Shortly after, the adults are asked to explain how it feels for girls when, during puberty, they hear “like a girl” used in a negative context.

One woman says it likely drops their self-confidence.

Then another offers a powerful piece of advice for girls who are told they “run like a girl,” “swing like a girl,” and “hit like a girl.”

YouTube/Always

Here’s what she says.

“Keep doing it ’cause it’s working. If somebody else says that running like a girl, or kicking like a girl, or shooting like a girl is something that you shouldn’t be doing, that’s their problem. Because if you’re still scoring, and you’re still getting to the ball on time, and you’re still being first, you’re doing it right. It doesn’t matter what they say.

I mean, yes, I kick like a girl, and I swim like a girl, and I walk like a girl, and I wake up in the morning like a girl because I am a girl. And that is not something that I should be ashamed of, so I’m going to do it, anyway. That’s what they should do.”

Here’s the full video:

Reporting by Aaron Taube

Always Brand’s “Like a Girl” Campaign Makes Waves

One of the best ways a brand can get an audience on its side is to show it is on the audience’s side. This is exactly what P&G’s Always brand did in its recent “Like a Girl” video marketing campaign, which has spread its message far beyond the feminine hygiene products the company seeks to sell.

In the #LikeAGirl video, producers ask a group of young men and women to perform one or more actions – such as running, fighting, or playing a sport – “like a girl” would. The predictable – yet dismaying – behaviors that follow include a great deal of hair flipping, wrist flopping, and anemic running.

Then the producers bring out a group of young girls and make the same requests. The girls oblige with energy and athleticism, showing their perception of what it means to be a girl differs significantly from that of their predecessors.

When the older participants view the recordings of the younger ones, they realize their error and participate in a brief dialogue about why doing something “like a girl” takes on such negative connotations.

The Widespread Reach of the #LikeAGirl Campaign

On YouTube alone, the video has garnered over 47 million views. Social media uptake and response has been massive, with millions of Facebook shares and Twitter retweets. In addition, multiple media outlets – including Time magazine and virtually every new network – are engaging in discussions about the video and what it means for young women everywhere.

Always has started a website encouraging visitors to “Join the Movement” to spread awareness about confidence and empowerment in young women. With such a serious conversation occurring across so many different channels, it becomes easy to forget it began as part of a marketing campaign – which is what makes it so effective.

The Benefits of Empowerment in Marketing and Branding Videos

The #LikeAGirl campaign has brought positive attention to Always for several reasons, to which other brands ought to pay close attention. These include:

  1. It’s not about the brand. Yes, the company name is in the video, but the focus remains on the girls, the audiences, and the message. Always shows viewers they care more about the bottom line – they want to make girls’ lives better.
  2. It empowers audiences. Confidence is a powerful motivator, and girls walk away from the video with a different perspective of how they want to be perceived. For years to come, they will associate those positive feelings with the Always brand.
  3. It uses video to make its point. A written or static photo ad could never send as powerful a message as the #LikeAGirl video has. It shows real people acting out the behaviors they have learned or developed. The moment of realization on the faces of the older participants presents a particularly profound moment to which audiences can relate.

Without a doubt, internet users will continue to discuss the #LikeAGirl video and the issues it raises for a long time to come.

About which important issue or cause might your next video marketing campaign center?

Play like a girl commercial

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