You've Come A Long Way, Baby

The title of this post could (and should) be an entire course. There is easily enough new material generated every year to incite impassioned debate. Organizations like the 3% Conference and Advertising Women of NY make great strides in getting us closer to reality as communicators, yet the question always lingers--Have we really come a long way? And by whose standards?

The recent Women's March seen and heard around the world tells me--probably not.

The first brand to introduce a modern version of feminism in advertising (that I can recall from first hand experience) is Virginia Slims' "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" campaign in 1968. My Dad worked for Philip Morris when I was young and used to bring me a Virginia Slims "Engagement Calendar" filled with images of sophisticated seductresses with extra-long skinny cigarettes who seemed to be in charge of their lives and loving it.

That was a version of feminism from the 70s. And shortly after that campaign was introduced, Title IX became law, so it must have jived with public sentiment to some degree. Though, it must have been an iterative process because at some point they dropped the "Baby" part in the ad above.

The next one I remember is still a favorite: Nike's "If You Let Me Play" spot. I show it every semester to every class. Even though it dates back to 1995, it still resonates. Note that it was created by an all-female team.

There have been lots of campaigns since that have pushed themes of equality (or lack of) to the forefront. Dove's "Real Beauty," Always "Like A Girl," American Greetings "Toughest Job In the World" are top of mind. 

But let's fast-forward to Superbowl 2017. Audi's "Daughter" spot very touchingly tells the story of a Dad asking himself "What will I tell my daughter?" as he watches her compete against boys to win in a go-cart race. The end of the spot proclaims that Audi believes in equal pay for workers no matter their gender. It's a very nice, heartwarming spot.

But my question is this: Compared to Nike's "If You Let Me Play" spot from 1995--almost a quarter century ago--have we really come a long way?

Before Dove did this in 2004:

Nike did this in the 90's (also done by an all-female team):

 (Thank you, Kathy Hepinstall, copywriter)

(Thank you, Kathy Hepinstall, copywriter)

So I ask my students two questions: (1) Have we really come so far? and when you are in charge of the decisions someday, (2) How do you make sure you move the conversation FORWARD and not let it stagnate?