Becky Townsend | Strategist & Copywriter, April 30, 2020

Each and every brand today strives to engage with their target audience on their own turf – attempting to break down the boundaries, insert themselves in our world and ultimately create a hub of ambassadors, while ticking the buzzword bingo boxes for ‘authentic’, ‘inclusive’ and ‘understanding’.

But it seems as though, that in doing this – brands are forgetting to champion the aspects of their identity that set them apart in the first place. Leaving their USPs behind in order to add their voice to a more universal message. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – if the message is something close to the hearts of the target audience.  

In 2004, Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ campaign was launched, teaching us to love every inch of our bodies. ‘This Girl Can’, which aired in 2015, celebrated the wobbly bits, the hard work, that exercise should be fun and that there’s no one right way to do it.

What these campaigns have in common is the theme of ‘female empowerment’. And it truly is a testament to brands such as these, we got the message. We believe we can, we’re out here every day trying to be the best versions of ourselves, and we’re not afraid to throw like a girl. But things have changed since 2004.

Specifically, when designing a campaign or brand that targets female, the narrative of ‘empowerment’ is no longer enough. We’re failing to delve deeper beneath the surface and tap into the unique drivers that would encourage any women, any person, to engage with a particular brand – regardless of the industry.

In a recent panel as part of The Drum’s Digital Transformation Festival, former England footballer and Aston Villa Woman’s Sporting Director Eniola Aluko, raised the point of how sports brands in particular need to evolve in order to connect with female audiences.

“It is good for brands to show how exercise and sport is an everyday activity for women, rather than creating those moments artificially. Brands need to work hard to find a way to show women playing sports in a more natural way rather than promoting campaigns that are purely cinematic.”

Which is a fair assessment, given that pretty much every sports brand, advert and campaign looks the same. They’re all focused on the same type of message, rather than celebrating what makes them different.

So, if the theme of ‘empowerment’ is failing to resonate, then what can brands be doing in order to engage specifically with their female audiences?


Look beyond ‘female’

There’s just under 4 billion women on the planet. That’s a really big audience to target. A brand message needs to be more specific and it also needs to be true to the essence of the brand itself.

In order to authentically connect with any audiences, a brand needs to have a strong grasp on their values. Many markets are so caught up in speaking to us as a demographic, that they’ve forgotten to tell us why we should care about what they’re selling to us in the first place.

Speak to me about you, the product and why I should care – rather than speaking to me about me.


Be real with it, and don’t patronise us

 One quick scan through Instagram and you’re likely to be accosted by beautiful men and women, working out, cooking, taking care of their children etc. – looking far more fabulous than us mere mortals could ever hope to replicate. But even the people in these photos remind us that they’re simply playing a role – trying to do a job. Good for them honestly.

But in a world filled with so much obvious fakery, we need something different. Dove has seen well over a decade of success thanks to the ‘Real Beauty’ campaign, because at the end of the day, all we really want is to see someone like us on the TV. We want to hear and be inspired by ordinary people like us, not by a character that someone has created.


Like this


Not like this


Speak to us the same

The original ‘This Girl Can’ campaign worked so well because it didn’t focus on age, ability, religion or ethnicity. It just showed that while hard work, exercise can be fun and that we shouldn’t concern ourselves with how we look while we’re doing it.

Women have been conditioned to look perfect, something with isn’t helped by the picture-perfect ponytails you see online. But as we’re continuously striving for equality, if you’re going to speak to us – speak to us like you would the blokes.

“Suggesting that women will clamor for a product wrapped in pink packaging just because some marketer assumes that all women love pink can come across as downright insulting.” says co-researcher Leslie K. John, the Marvin Bower Associate Professor at HBS.

We all remember the fateful ‘BIC for Her’, designed with a ‘thin barrel to fit a women’s hand’. A statement which borders the line between perverse and tragic – really, they brought the Amazon reviews on themselves.

A personal favourite:

“My only concern is how long will the pens last and can one do a bulk purchase? Do the pens come with ‘instructions for her’ as she will need much guidance and help explaining what the pens do and what they are for.”


Check, is it relevant?

 When it truly comes down to it, a message will resonate with an audience – as long as they can perceive it as being relevant to the brand itself and backed up by real-world actions.

For example, the message of inclusivity coming from a brand such as Fenty Beauty – who’s leading USP is that they launched with over 40 shades of foundation – works. It’s authentic and backed up by the way the brand behaves.

But a message like this coming from say a car brand, wouldn’t resonate – because they can’t do anything to support their claims.



At the end of the day, we engage with brands based on an alignment in values, whether we know it or not.

The way brands present themselves to the world needs to explain why they’re there, why we should care and what difference they’re going to make to our lives – championing messages they actually believe in, rather than things they think we care about.