Can an ad create social change? Can an ad spark a social movement or lead a revolution? Can an ad save me from my self-induced yogurdose*? The answer to all of these questions (and probably others) is a resounding YES. YES YES YES.
Sorry, wrong hair commercial reference: Although the showergasms seen in 90s-era Herbal Essence commercials were truly a landmark moment in shampoo-related branding, we've advanced as a society. Moved on, grown older, felt feelings. We are no longer 14 years old, we are no longer quite so easily provoked. We are fierce and empowered and so are our cats. We have been awakened to the rampant sexism and overall gender bias in our society! (Also, there is racism and classism and homophobia and xenophobia and a host of other forms of discrimination, but none of us really want to dwell on the unfair advantages we may have over others, obviously**.)
I am a big big feminist. So big that if I had a Tinder account, it would even be my caption: "I am a big big feminist. :D"
So obvs I appreciate the core message and fabulous execution of Pantene Philippines' last hair commercial. Part of the brand's anti-sexism #WhipIt campaign, the commercial combats gender bias in the workplace, showing how men and women are judged by different standards. Where a man is perceived to be authoritative and in command (a boss, in short), a woman is deemed bossy. If a man works late he is dedicated; if a woman does the same she is considered selfish for neglecting her family.
The campaign was initially endorsed by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook and founder of Lean In, an organization which supports women who want to be bosses at work. Sandberg is arguably the most visible woman working in technology and business; when she shared the ad on Facebook [above via Fashionista], it went viral. The response has been 'amazing' —
- Amazing Pantene Ad Defiantly Tackles How Women in the Workplace Are Labeled — AdWeek
- This Amazing Hair Commercial Portrays Gender Labels Effectively — Forbes
- "Pantene Philippines has come up with an amazing new ad." — PolicyMic
I'm not going to play cynic (okay, maybe a little) and cast aspersions on Pantene Philippines' motives for producing the ad. The brand's Facebook page is loaded with similar anti-stereotyping messaging, showing real commitment to promoting the ideas introduced in the video. Also, among Fortune 200 companies, Procter & Gamble (which owns Pantene) has the single highest percentage of women (45%) sitting on its board.
HOWEVER (you knew this was coming), an ad is an ad is an ad is an ad. It's commendable when large companies pursue social aims but it's our job, as consumers of ads and consumers of shampoo and consumers of shiny hair imagery, to maintain some critical distance. Even if (and maybe even especially if) the commercial in question is AHMAZING.
*tooo mannny live and active culllturrres
**if you do feel like dwelling, this incredible article about a homeless pre-teen in New York City is a good place to start.