What Do You Think of Pantene’s New “Feminist” Ad?

So I came across Pantene’s new commercial for the Philippines. On the surface, it comes off as a powerful statement — one that shows how powerful men are revered in the business world versus how powerful women are looked at as “pushy,” and “bossy.”

Watch it for yourself:

But that’s just on the surface. And it’s so fucking easy to see right through the message.

After all, Pantene’s goal is to sell shampoo to women — to make them look better.

As Alexandra Petri of the Washington Post so aptly put it, “Jane is ‘bossy’, but her mane is glossy!”

Pantene, while boasting its worldly, “modern” views of women in the workplace, wants women to look beautiful while shattering the glass ceiling.

And doesn’t that defeat the whole purpose of breaking through the gender demarcation in the workplace? It’s an ugly thing — this never ending expectation that women are supposed to look beautiful while we demolish gender stereotypes.

Praise and accolades abound for the new ad — and Sheryl Sandburg is giving it a standing ovation.

What do you think? Does the ad deserve applause, or does it deserve a raised eyebrow and a head shake?

5 thoughts on “What Do You Think of Pantene’s New “Feminist” Ad?

  1. I think Ms. Waldman over at Slate has a pretty good handle on this one –


    In particular, her last paragraph –

    “I’m OK with being marketed to on the basis of my feminism, as long as I don’t fool myself into imagining that my purchase stands in for meaningful activism (and as long as the company doesn’t try to fool me into thinking that). I appreciate smart advertising. I am willing to support brands whose business strategies suggest to me that feminism matters. Most of all, I’m glad to see the message out there, getting more exposure than it would if companies stuck to eternally draping their products in naked ladies.”

    Where I disagree with her is that I actually would put the Pantene ad in that category, simply because I don’t think it’s possible to make that logical leap of “If I buy X brand shampoo, I’m combating sexism!” so I don’t feel my intelligence being insulted. Mainly I’m just happy to see the double-standard called out.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Athena. I actually felt like a grump after posting this. I’m not against big corporations pointing out sexism and gender stereotypes. As a matter of fact, when I first viewed the commercial — I was impressed with the strong message — and it’s a message that (despite our progress) many people need to hear.

      I’m not the type to think that progress needs to be perfect. I understand that it’s always going to be two steps forward and one step back — and I think that Pantene’s new ad is a form of progress. It’s big business calling out sexism in the workplace, right? That’s pretty cool in my book.

      But there was this lingering feeling that gnawed at me after viewing the ad a few times. We all know it’s a business trying to sell something — and I’m smart enough not to buy into the consumerism of the message. But it still is a commercial — an ad with an aim to make big bucks. And the women in the ad? Ultra-slim, long-legged, shiny-tressed beauties who are the very representation of the beauty myth that infects our society.

      I really like Ms. Waldman’s article (thanks for the link!) and particularly this quote:

      “Compare the Pantene campaign with Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” which made waves in 2004 by showcasing six models with “real bodies and real curves.” Those ads didn’t claim soap could put an end to sexism or body insecurity. They simply presented the product alongside less conventionally figured women and asked viewers to reassess their stereotypes. You could endorse the message by buying the soap, but the soap itself wasn’t hailed as a solution. It’s a subtle distinction, but it helps explain why taglines like “Be strong and shine” (Read: save the world via lustrous hair) grate, whereas ones like “You are more beautiful than you think” work. Dove incorporated feminism without hollowing it out.”

      I think in the end it’s “hollowed out” feminism. So I think my feelings about this ad are mixed. I applaud it with a raised eyebrow and a grimace. Because how can I NOT applaud the acknowledgment of these stereotypes? It needs to be said, and like you, I’m happy to see the double standard called-out.

  2. Interesting post! I would agree that there’s generally something vaguely slimy about positive social messages coming from big corporations, because no matter how great the message (and this one is pretty brilliant IMO) there’s always that elephant in the room of an ulterior motive (profit) to taint the sincerity of it. Which isn’t necessarily to say that they’re a bad thing altogether, just that it’s harder to take them seriously, etc.

    As for the apparent contradiction in a feminist message coming from a shampoo company, I think I would be more leery if it were from a company selling makeup or the like — something that falls squarely into the “optional to make women look pretty” category rather than the “basic everyday hygiene” category. (I gotta wash my hair with something, and despite the marketing I don’t really believe Pantene brand shampoo will make my hair any prettier or shinier than whatever is sitting on my bathroom shelf right now.)

    • Thanks for your response, Sarah! If you read my response to Athena above, you’ll get a better idea of how mixed I was on the ad. The fact that a large corporation is acknowledging double-standards in the workplace is something to be applauded. And yes, don’t we all use shampoo? It’s not like they’re selling anti-aging cream! But my hesitancy to give the ad it’s full recognition has more to do with the definition of beauty in the ad. The thinness, perfection, and shininess that is never easy to attain — the expectation of a certain kind of beauty that women are confronted with everyday. Okay, I get why they’re showing shiny hair — it’s a shampoo commercial after-all! But all the women are young, beautiful and skinny — which is not a true depiction of women as a whole.

      But whatever. It’s a commercial. What do I expect? And it is a move in the right direction.

  3. Pingback: Feminine Mystique | Amor Fati

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