In a Sea of Go-Girl Advertising, P&G's 'Like a Girl' Hits Hardest

Campaign Also Does Good Job of Making Target Market Consider the Product

By Published on .

Advertising Age Player

It's a good thing women are stronger than marketers would have us believe.

Judging by recent efforts from marketers to empower women, it's a wonder that the U.S. and similar countries can function at all. If those ads are any guide, girls and women are such a collective mass of insecurities, self-loathing and psychological wounds, I'm not sure how they make it out of the door in the morning.

The answer probably has something to do with the basic resilience of the human spirit, but that's neither here nor there.

We're here to sell soap, folks. Literally in some of these cases. And the question is do these efforts work? Yes! More than likely. Depending on how many coupons are dropped at the same time a video goes viral. It's hard to tell, really.

Some say marketing is creating a need and then filling it. Some would say that's a cynical interpretation of the craft.

But not as cynical as, just to pick a random example, a massive packaged goods company using one massive brand to lead a charge against the use of photoshop and overly-skinny models to set unrealistic ideals of beauty for women, while at the same time marketing another brand that all but promises young men that those exact same unrealistic women will throw themselves at them (literally) if only said young men use enough body spray.

That company is Unilever, obviously.

Considering all the accolades the company's decade-old "Real Beauty" efforts for Dove have received, it may seem contrarian to come along at this stage and criticize. As a matter of fact, I liked the early work for Dove. It was touching and touched a nerve. But the company completely lost me with the last effort, in which women were told they'd be wearing a magic pharmaceutical patch that would make them better somehow. It made Facebook's recent experiment look like child's play. The company came off as manipulative and it made the women look gullible and downright desperate -- something advertising should never do.

Others have tried to get in on the act. There's Verizon, which wonders why girls lose their confidence before high school.

And Procter & Gamble's Pantene. Pantene's first foray was a feminist-themed effort in the Philippines. (Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg liked it so much she almost single-handedly convinced the company to bring it stateside. And it could be seen as the parent of the Facebook COO's "Ban Bossy" movement, which sounded like something created by the comedy team that brought you Things White People Like, First-World Problems and Drunk History -- with just a dash of thought police thrown in.)

More recently, Pantene launched a video state-side to tell women to quit apologizing for things. (Though, like "Ban Bossy," it can be argued that the "sorry" phenomenon isn't gender specific; I, for one, have said "sorry" in all of those situations. Then again, I used to use a lot of Pantene, so maybe it seeped into my scalp.)

That's not to say this isn't smart marketing. It's pretty brilliant, actually -- with the exception of Dove's most recent iteration of "Real Beauty" and Verizon's seemingly random decision to jump in on the craze.

After all, now that most of Western society knows that it needs to stay clean and needs soap to do so, how do you sell more of it? By making emotional plays such as these, by turning to cause marketing or something that feels like it. Or, to put it in extremely cynical terms, tell otherwise successful and secure women that they're being victimized and then rush in to save them.

Incidentally, these campaigns are also hard to criticize. To do so makes you a jerk -- whether it be of the misogynistic, anti-capitalist or ultra-feminist-who's-never-happy stripe is irrelevant. Heck, despite P&G being 10 years late to this game, it seems impolite to say it's blatantly copying Unilever.

All of which brings me to the "Like a Girl" effort from P&G's Always.

I like "Like a Girl." Why? It doesn't simply state its case, it makes it. "Like a girl" is clearly an insult -- unlike the word "bossy," which isn't necessarily a gendered insult (or even an insult). I can say from experience as a boy child and as a man adult, that every time I've used the phrase it's been directed at another guy and it's meant to imply inferiority. Run like a girl. Cry like a girl. Scream like a girl. In other words, you're weak like a girl.

But the Always video doesn't dwell on lunk-headed men hurling insults at each other or little boys picking on little girls.

Rather, it brilliantly sets up two groups of people. Pre-adolescent girls -- and the rest of the world. Ask a young girl how to run or throw like a girl and she, get this, runs or throws. Period. She gives it her all. Ask a young boy how to run like a girl and you know what you're going to get. But what really makes the video is when women are asked to perform these tasks like a girl. Somewhere between girlhood and womanhood, it turns out, they've internalized the boys' idea of throwing and running and hitting like a girl, mockingly flopping their hands and legs.

It's an eye opener -- which is something you don't often get in advertising of any kind. It made me -- 21st century, non-PC male born and raised in the South -- reconsider my own word choices.

The video, directed by Lauren Greenfield, Sundance Film Festival award-winning creator of "The Queen of Versailles," has gone viral, of course. It showed up in my Facebook feed after being picked up by a pet blog of all things. Always has created a site that goes into more detail and allows people to "join the movement."

All of this is smartly targeted, as well. Always would like to reach young women having their first period and/or their moms -- especially since the first brand settled upon in this category tends to be the last brand settled upon. A message such as this is appealing to both mom and daughter -- and probably dad as well.

And it's squarely on brand.

Let's be crystal clear here. Whatever else "Like a Girl" is, it's a sales pitch. Just like Unilever's effort to sell more Dove and Verizon's attempt to sell whatever it is it's trying to sell.

This touching, emotional, extremely viral campaign's main reason for being is to sell more panty liners. That's its job.

And it's doing it. Like a boss. And like a girl.

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