July 2, 2014 7:05 pm

Can the Always #likeagirl ad sell us more than maxipads?

WATCH ABOVE: Always “Like a Girl” commercial

MONTREAL — When I watched the Always “Like a Girl” commercial, I’ll admit it, I cried. And I wasn’t the only one.

Women across the country took to social media to say they got misty-eyed while watching the ad, which on Wednesday had over 18 million views on YouTube.

“‘You run like a girl’ or ‘you throw like a girl’ are common insults we’ve all heard or said at one point,” Victoria Maybee from Proctor and Gamble Canada Communications told Global News.

“Always is looking to change the negative perception of the phrase and make ‘like a girl’ a declaration that means downright amazing.”

Proctor and Gamble have several brand campaigns based on female empowerment.

Proctor and Gamble

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She explained that the global campaign created on behalf of Always, which makes feminine pads, wipes and pantiliners, aims to help girls, especially as they enter puberty, noting that a new Always-sponsored survey revealed that the start of puberty and their first periods marked the lowest moments in confidence for girls.

“Harmful words can add to that drop in confidence,” she said.

“When did doing something ‘like a girl’ become an insult?”

Working with documentary filmmaker Lauren Greenfield, the Always team came up with a commercial that challenges our perceptions of what doing something “like a girl” means.

Maybee described the ad as a “social experiment to see how people of all ages interpret the phrase.”

“Greenfield had a very clear vision on how to conduct the social experiment,” said Maybee.

“She was on board with Always to challenge the meaning of ‘like a girl’ to help empower young girls to fight the negative stereotypes that can impact their confidence during puberty.”

The ad features people who seem to be auditioning. When the director asks them to “run like a girl” or “fight like a girl,” older actors half-heartedly mime the actions, making themselves look weak and silly; while young girls performing the same actions as hard and as fiercely as they can.

A still from the Always #LikeaGirl commercial.

Proctor and Gamble

Always is now inviting girls and women everywhere to join what it’s calling a “movement,” and share photos, videos and messages of what they do on social media, using the #LikeAGirl hashtag.

“A viral video or hashtag isn’t a movement.” 

As moving as the commercial is, Mitch Joel, the president of Twist Image, a digital marketing agency based in Montreal, said that it isn’t the first time that corporations have used our emotions to create a connection to a brand.

“I think the ability to use emotions, or what we perceive to be universal truths, is the way brands have made connections throughout history.

“I don’t think movements can be created; they come from groups of people who work together. They can’t always be led or controlled by brands, but brands can latch themselves onto them.

These are tactics of persuasion to get you to be a part of their story.”

It’s these tactics that are cause for concern for many who are actually working with girls to overcome real-life obstacles to success.

Tatiana Fraser is the co-founder of Girls Action Foundation and co-author of Girl Positive, to be published by Random House 2015.

While she acknowledged that it was refreshing to hear from girls and to see a campaign that has the potential to engage people to think critically, she said she has concerns about mixing branding with girls’ empowerment.

“What troubles me is that we are coupling consumption with empowerment through brands, re-enforcing and confusing worthiness through products,” she said.

She suggested that as a society, we need to get to the root of the issue, which she considers to be sexism and lingering belief systems.

“Girls aren’t the problem – it’s a broader social issue.”

Referring to the parodies that cropped up after a similar Dove advertising campaign, where boys were walked through a similar process of self scrutiny, Fraser asked, “What world do we live in where the mental health of girls is taken up by corporate opportunity and profit?

“Generating this conversation through product promotion is a real insult to women and girls. Poor us, we need corporate marketing to teach us self worth.

“I’m curious to hear what girls would say to that.”

This photo taken on May 26, 2014 shows a girl throwing a football.

Ye Aung Thu/AFP/Getty Images

Ivy, a media-savvy eight-year-old from Montreal, told Global News that she liked the video.

“It was good. I liked it because many people in my class say to girls that they scream like a girl, they kick like a girl, they do stuff like that,” she observed.

“I felt humiliated and sad because I felt like they were saying that boys were better than girls, but that’s not true.”

“Of course we scream like girls, we are girls.”

But Ivy didn’t realize the video was a commercial, and she found that slightly awkward.

“It’s sort of weird because they’re not telling you what you’re actually supposed to buy.”

It’s in exactly this place where selling a movement and selling a product meet which is considered most controversial.

Gada Mahrouse, a professor with Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute, said while she agrees with the Always study about how girls’ self-esteem plummets at puberty, the commercial doesn’t talk about why this happens.

For good reason.

“It is a well-established fact that our society is obsessed with thinness, resulting in eating disorders and low self-esteem, particularly among teenage girls who try to conform to standards of beauty,” she noted.

“The advertising industry is one of the main culprits.”

“What troubles me about this ad is that it is a good example of how girls are increasingly getting two simultaneous and contradictory messages from the media – that they should be competitive, confident, empowered, “themselves,” AND that they must conform to unrealistic beauty standards.

“These days, girls are expected to both challenge gendered norms and adhere to them.”

She also had concerns about how a brand co-opts the language of social movements, distracting viewers from the fact that it’s a commercial designed to sell feminine hygiene products.

“As we have seen in recent years, girls’ empowerment is big business . . . but for the company to claim that their campaign ‘is kicking off an epic battle’ to make sure girls keep their confidence is a stretch.”

But Suzanne Fox, a 42-year-old mother of two sons in Toronto doesn’t necessarily agree.

“It takes lots for me to cry these days, but it upset me to see how we connect ‘doing things as a girl’ to being negative,” she told Global News.

“Just making us aware of what we’re doing will hopefully cultivate some change in our attitude. I think most people have used ‘like a girl’ in some scenario and I will definitely eliminate it from my vocabulary.

“It’s like the word ‘retard.’ I call people out on that all the time because having a child who is autistic has made me more sensitive to the derogatory use of words.”

This is essentially the challenge, said Joel, as what works and what doesn’t work in the world of marketing boils down to how well something is accepted by people on the front lines and in the public sphere.

“It’s impossible to say whether it’s possible to shift public perception,” said Joel. “But in a world where people don’t watch ads, we just watched a commercial for almost four minutes.

“When the story is compelling, people will watch it. We don’t hate advertising, we hate bad advertising.”

© Shaw Media, 2014

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