The Unilever brand, of course, practically invented the art of using self-empowerment to sell more soap. And it kicked off October, a.k.a. “Self Esteem” month, with an expanded #SpeakBeautiful Squad, using influencers like Ariel Winter (“Modern Family”) to encourage women and girls to counter negative social media messages with complimentary ones.
“Body-shaming has no place in this election,” it tweeted out to its nearly 200,000 Twitter followers. “Throughout this election, our girls have watched as toxic language has been used to demean and body-shame women, but you can help change the conversation.”
The message directs viewers to a “Five ways to discuss self-esteem with your daughter during the debate” page, encouraging moms to — among other things — use the final debate to “Call out confidence,” for example, and “Plant the seed,” asking if she has ever considered a future in leadership.
“Body confidence and self-esteem are not political issues,” says Theresa McDonnell, Unilever’s director of digital engagement and PR in North America. “They are everyday issues, especially for young girls. We are dedicated to eradicating negative beauty conversation everywhere – in the media, in the boardroom, on the playing field, in school, and in public office.”
But rather than leading social-media conversations, some experts say “femvertising” brands like Dove are followers, latching on big social shifts sparked by this season’s raucous—and often raunchy—campaign.
“We are seeing men and women pushing back, challenging power, privilege and institutional sexism,” says Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D., a professor at Colby College and author of Packaging Girlhood: Rescuing Our Daughters from Marketers' Schemes. “That isn’t something you can market.” Body-shaming, she points out, “has in some ways been the undoing of this campaign, and that’s a powerful way to show girls that it’s not acceptable.”
She gives girls and young women plenty of credit. “They’re leading the way in social media, creating the kind of conversation that addresses these issues, with fresh conversations in digital media. And in a lot of ways, marketers are reacting. But I do get concerned when girl activism is commoditized.”
McDonnell says Dove has now reached 19 million girls around the world with self-esteem resources, and that while the campaign has helped decrease negativity on Twitter, “there is more work to be done.” Dove research, she tells Marketing Daily, shows that 70% of girls believe social media has a strong influence on the way they look.
She says it created the debate-specific at the request of mothers and mentors: “It is important to help women and girls navigate commentary that damages their self-worth.”