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Dr. Shampa Nandi, Faculty, ISME


For centuries, advertisers and marketers frequently used women in advertisements portraying in sexiest role, restricting their role in upbringing children, looking after family and doing all household chores. Thus women, in spite of being used in advertisements frequently, they were presented in inferior manner irrespective of their potentials and capabilities. It was leading negative consequences for women and strengthening stereotyped values in the society.

Over a period of time, Indian advertisements have evolved and a paradigm shift in Indian culture was observed due to various reasons like globalisations, modernisation of Indian economy, women joining in workforce and dual income families. Since women started joining in workforce, a significant variation in both male and female role in Indian families is prevalent in recent days. With more financial freedom, women learnt to assert themselves and consequently, brands and marketers realised that they can no longer take the advantage of portraying women in inferior roles. Today’s Indian women across social hierarchyare looking for self-respect and self-identity. In advertising, women empowerment has become an increasingly dominant theme.  In the past few years, role of men in family has changed and advertisements started reflecting man in softer roles like helping his counter part in household work or interacting with their children. A large number of advertisements initiated projecting men in more egalitarian roles, who believe in equal rights irrespective of genders. In recent years there has been an influx of portraying strong independent women in Indian commercials. Advertisements focused more on “empowered women” for portraying them in advertisements, known as femvertising.

Femvertising and its history

Women empowerment is a fundamental ideology among feminists who try to achieve gender equality. Femvertising is based on the idea of inspiring women to take control and responsibility for their identity and choices (Alcoff, 1988). Femvertising is defined as “advertisements which promote the idea, images, messages consisting of female talents, and women empowerments” (SheKnows Media, 2015). Google’s “Think insights” marketing research team has categorized advertisements empowering women as those advertisements who promote messages on gender equality, love and body positivity (Wojcicki, 2016). The idea of Femvertising started in 2004 with Dove’s “Real beauty campaign”. The campaign was developed by Ogilvy and Mather, Edelman Public Relations, and Harbinger Communications. Dove redefined the concept of beauty by breaking the stereotype, that only young, tall, slim ladies with flawless skin are beautiful. Argument was given that after seeing any model in the advertisement of beauty products, the self-esteem of women went down substantially. After a market research done by Dove with London School of economics (our research, it was found that only 2% women considered themselves beautiful, 50% said women beauty was narrowly defined and 66% felt media set unrealistic standard for beauty of women.  In the real beauty campaign, message was delivered as instead of telling or showing women how they should be, they should celebrate who they were. Dove’s campaign featured women of all age groups, skin colour, body types, heights, weights, wrinkles, flaws and projected
women as beautiful. Real beauty campaign got huge success both in terms of popularity, reach and sales. In total the ad campaign generated 11 million euros and Dove’s real  beauty campaign became a point of discussion across media.

Femvertising, the new FAD in Indian Advertising
For the past few years, a large number of companies in India, are creating advertisements either to break the stereotypes or to portray women in a more confident, decisive and super women image doing multitasking. Companies started using femvertising in different forms to distinguish themselves in the clutter of advertisements-

1. Promoting girl’s education- The best example is Govt of India’s awareness campaign, “Beti Bachao, beti Padao” to improve social welfare and social status of girls. “Oriflame-beautiful change” is a recent ad with the same message where an established woman from a higher section of society takes the responsibility of her maid’s daughter education.

2. Break the taboo- “Anouk” an ethnic wear brand from Myntra has promoted a series of ad campaigns under the title “Bold is beautiful”, where either it was about choosing life partner of same sex or portraying a message that “pregnancy is not creating any handicap situation for any woman nor it is an end to a woman’s career. Whisper created short ads to break different types of taboos and stereotypical mentality regarding menstruation cycles.

3. Gender equality-Nike’s “Da Da Ding” ad was one of the most popular ad focussed on the athletic spirit of women and stood out within the clutter of advertisements by giving a strong message to people who don’t give enough importance to female sports.  Ariel’s ad campaign “Share the load” promoted the idea “Why is laundry a mother’s job?” questioning century old Indian stereotypes.

4. Beauty reframe– Titan’s “I am- flaunt the flaws” is a beautiful ad where beauty of woman is redefined as the advertisements projected women as they are.

5. Questioning norms- In the “Nayi Soch” campaign, Star plus has launched an ad where the name of the sweet shop is kept “Gurdeep Singh and Daughters”. The ad overwhelmed us by challenging the age-old Indian convention of keeping names of any business by the name of father and sons.

Femvertising- a FAD or an effective advertising strategy?

There are numerous advertisements incorporating women empowerment messages and most of them have been applauded for communicating positive messages to women. They are more engaging and popular especially among female consumers. They are able to instantly connect with 50% of the consumers, the women. Brand perceptions are substantially improved by portraying femvertising. Researchers claimed that purchase intention of a brand improved by featuring favourable portrayal of women.  Companies’ investment on promoting social changes has grown manifold in recent
years. Pro women, female empowerment advertisements are able to build a relationship with the customer base through depicting ordinary and real women by sharing their real life experiences. There is no doubt that these types of ads are able to influence female consumers for feminine products and are more effective in promoting those types of brands. But for gender neutral products, their impacts are still questionable.


Advertisements are always reflective about the social changes and the recent fad of femvertising in India is also following feminist wave and paradigm shift in Indian culture. Critics often pointed out that marketers and creative copywriters simply create these pro women advertisements just to attract the recent upcoming, affluent, ambitious women and intent to increase the sales of certain types of products. Some criticised that femvertising are more visible in a certain days of a calendar, like Women’s day. According to some scholars and researchers, companies are using femvertisments for promoting consumption of products and shopping spree which is against the philosophy of feminism, where women are tagged with shopping. Whatever be the motives, pro-women advertisements are actually created to elicit actions that any brand desires from its target market and eventually they are also promoting women’s liberation movements, which are essential for India. Pro women or men, advertisements should evolve to promote a brand not just to a gender but to a life stage or a personality trait.


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