Experts share ad campaigns that empower women beyond stereotypes

Women in the advertising and marketing industry highlight impactful campaigns that challenge gender biases, break taboos, and express authentic desires, fostering societal progress and reshaping perspectives.

Shamita Islur
New Update
ad campaigns that empower women

In the 1970s, when mainstream advertising showcased women through the male gaze, whether as an object or someone who takes care of the household, there was a copywriter who wrote an advertisement for a beauty brand that would accurately portray her feelings as a woman. 

The catchphrase “Because I’m worth it” written by Ilon Specht for L'oréal Paris’s Preference for hair colour changed the way women looked at themselves. Since then, the brand itself has roped in women from all walks of life to utter a rephrased version of the phrase - “You are worth it”, which has become the brand’s positioning.



In an interview, Specht mentioned that she wanted “a more assertive, more contemporary real woman, and wanted it to benefit the women.” 

While advertisements have attempted to change the course in the last few decades, society’s perception of how a woman should be has been highlighted much more than how a woman wants to be seen and treated. 

Now, gone are the days when a woman was a mere prop; instead, she is seen as a “superwoman” - taking care of her personal and professional life like a champ. A recent campaign for Tanishq titled The Superwoman, however, showed that women, with all their responsibilities, are humans first and deserve to be treated as one. 



In recent years, there have been a few impactful campaigns that have attempted to bring change and placed the onus of putting women in a stereotypical light on the viewer. 

Take Titan Raga's thought-provoking campaign #BreakTheBias which challenged gender biases in the workplace. The ad showed that working women who are successful at their jobs are perceived to be taking favours behind the scenes.  



Not just in the workplace, women have had to be responsible even at home, bearing the brunt of household labour without much thought or appreciation. In 2015, Ariel with its campaign series #ShareTheLoad aimed to address these unequal expectations. While the brand is all about detergents, the attempt with this campaign was to create a household where men and women share responsibilities equally.



Since then, the brand launched a series of advertisements showcasing various points of view, ultimately putting out the important message that sharing responsibilities equally can make for a respectful dynamic. This change in outlook has brought different perspectives in advertisements for such categories as well. 

The point is that no matter the topic of conversation, women deserve to be heard beyond a particular day dedicated to them. We speak to women in the advertising and marketing (A&M) industry on the campaigns that they feel have represented, empowered and put the real them out there. Afterall, if it wasn’t for these campaigns, that we would have reached where we are today. 

The one where she deals with bias at work

Kainaz Karmakar, Chief Creative Officer, Ogilvy India

Campaign - #BestAtWork, Mia By Tanishq 

Many good ones have been done across the years but the one I resonated with the most is called - “The Last Thing on My Mind” for Tanishq’s work-wear range. It beautifully tells the story of a bunch of female protagonists who are dynamic professionals.

Through a ‘said-sung’ poetry they tell us how the world looks at them and those worries are the last thing on their mind.

Written and directed by Rajesh Ramaswamy from Lowe Lintas, I found this piece to be so true to my life and beliefs. 

The casting, music and direction are all solid. Not only is this piece a great reflection of how I feel but it is super watchable and never feels dated.



Mahima Mathur, Creative Director, DDB Mudra Group

Campaign - 900 Minutes Of Equality, Corona

I’m a big fan of advertising that breaks gender stereotypes without screaming “Look we’re breaking gender stereotypes” from the rooftop. Like “900 Minutes Of Equality” by Corona. 

The base salary of a female soccer player in Mexico is 10 times lower than a man’s. So Corona got 280 female players to play a 900-minute game to show how much women need to play to get the same amount as men in a typical 90-minute game. Simple, powerful, authentic. 

What made all the difference was that it wasn’t just an act to talk about the wage gap, it was also a piece of entertainment that demonstrated some incredible soccer being played. A loud and clear 900-minute “hold my beer” to everyone who says female soccer just isn’t interesting or hardcore enough. 

A visceral piece that resonates not only with women in sports but also with women across all professions who find themselves hustling ten times harder than men just to earn equal recognition and pay.



Rumi Ambastha, Associate VP - Marketing, Swiss Beauty

Campaign - #RedefiningCelebration, Sabhyata 

About two years ago around Diwali, when there was an avalanche of films by every small and big player across categories there was one particular quaint film that caught my eye that had a quiet demeanour and a sense of calmness about it. It has happened that over the years whenever I have randomly encountered this particular film on my feed I find myself teary-eyed which I must stress that it rarely happens. So clearly this film tugs upon my heart every single time without missing a beat.

The film is set in an albeit common office wherein a woman walks in for her final round of interviews. What transpires is that by pure coincidence from the employee's perspective and ingeniously designed by the employer she meets the CEO of the company. Sheeba Chaddha is terrific in her portrayal of an understanding fellow female employee who understands the female employee's predicament about her early pregnancy and will to work and hunger for opportunity. 

In absolutely no unnecessary chest thumping or screaming from atop a terrace kind of way, the film talks about leadership with empathy, ambitious women, and a workspace that's understanding almost like family. There’s a simple world charm in the film that's hard to come by. 



The one where she breaks taboos 

Pooja Manek, Creative Lead & Founding Member, Talented

Campaigns - Blood Normal, Viva La Vulva & Womb Stories by Bodyform

It’s one thing to do a heartfelt women’s day campaign, and another to commit to a discourse no matter what time of the year it is. The latter is why I am a fan of Bodyform’s work. They didn’t tackle breaking taboos once. They OWN the discourse to keep fighting the good fight until it is normalised. That’s the difference between a campaign and a movement.

Bodyform isn’t afraid to go where other brands won’t. In 2017, with ‘Blood Normal’, it abandoned blue liquid in favour of the first real (and very overdue) depiction of menstrual blood in an ad campaign. 



In 2019, with ‘Viva La Vulva’, it showcased an unapologetic ode to the female anatomy and a takedown to the toxic myth of ’perfect’, with a colourful chorus of all-singing, all-dancing vulvas.



In 2020, with ‘womb stories’, a campaign putting the spotlight on IVF treatment, endometriosis cramps, menopausal hot flushes, nipple hair and first periods, it gave a voice to the unseen, unspoken and unknown truths about the physical experiences of women everywhere. It’s time, more than ever before, to empower women to speak up about their bodies and own their experiences authentically. I believe it shouldn’t just be acceptable for a woman to have ownership over her body and over her narrative. It shouldn’t just be acceptable for people to be who they want and to love who they want and to choose not to have children if they want. This should be the norm. NOT JUST ACCEPTABLE.



The one where she expresses her desires

Gauri Malhotra, CMO, Bombay Shaving Company

Campaign - 'Why should boys have all the fun?', Hero Honda 

Advertising serves as a catalyst for societal progress when it fearlessly challenges conventions and reshapes perspectives. The campaign by Hero Honda, 'Why should boys have all the fun?' was an effort to reposition the role and aspirations of women beyond their responsibility towards household chores. 



Campaign - Remarriage, Tanishq

Equally impactful were the Tanishq Remarriage series of ads, which sensitively addressed societal taboos surrounding remarriage, presenting it with the dignity and grace it deserves. Remarriage is often a topic shrouded in silence, yet Tanishq's progressive stance boldly confronted this issue, demonstrating the brand's dedication to driving societal change. 



Swati Balani, Executive Creative Director, BBH India

Campaign - Cheers to All, Heineken 

A recent example has been ‘Cheers to All’ by Heineken done by Publicis Italy. The campaign brought out the unseen bias in bars and pubs without going into a social commentary about it. 

Therefore, it subtly brought out the brand’s perspective. This campaign truly spoke to me as it brought out a small bias that women have felt every time they have stepped out for a drink. 

No big statements, no demanding a big change, but a simple shift that made us all see how we all can enjoy any drink we’d like!



The one where she challenges society’s expectations

Mini Sood Banerjee, Assistant Director & Head of Marketing and Training at AMOREPACIFIC Group

Campaign - Stop The Beauty Test, Dove

Dove always comes up with the best of the campaigns and #StopTheBeautyTest made me think about why people in the society think like this. This ad shows how a girl is being judged by her prospective in-laws for not being fair, tall, slim and the list goes on. For young women, the journey of finding the right partner doesn’t have to turn into an ugly #beautytest. One message I could get from this ad is that when you look for beauty, you will find beauty in everything but when you look for flaws, you will find only flaws followed by disappointment. 



Campaign - Chhoti Soch, Urban Company 

I think the new ad from Urban Company has taken an intersectional approach to talk about the dignity of labour for their women professionals especially those working in the SPA category. 

The ad shows the journey of a young masseuse who unpacks the stigma surrounding her profession first for herself and then for her family. This ad shows that the spa professional doesn’t just create equity for all the masseuse but this created equity for all the women whose success is often credited to everything but their hard work and expertise.



There are many more campaigns that have done justice towards bringing home the message of women's empowerment. These are a few ads that have challenged bias, reflected upon the bodily changes they go through, reiterated the agency women have on their bodies and the choices they make for themselves and above all, showed that women have time and again tried their best to break out of the shell of restrictions the society has imposed on them. 

Considering this year, the theme for International Women’s Day focuses on inspiring inclusion by investing in women, at the end of the day, different narratives will show through when the ones working on the advertisements have women's representation. The day women will be able to voice their opinions without bias is when iconic campaigns alike Ilon Specht’s will emerge.

L’Oreal Paris ad campaigns Ariel #ShareTheLoad dove stop the beauty test Titan Raga #BreakTheBias Mia #BestAtWork Corona 900 Minutes Of Equality Sabhyata #RedefiningCelebration Bodyform Blood Normal Heineken Cheers to All