Advertising empowerment: inclusive or exploitative?


Dylan Share

LGBT+ inclusivity and female empowerment are the newest and most profitable marketing campaigns seen in a long time. Extensive marketing research has concluded that consumers respond more positively to brands that use this type of advertising, which in turn boosts sales dramatically. The old adage “sex sells” has been retired and replaced with “inclusion sells.”
However, with this new wave of rainbow inclusivity and “femvertising,” many people have questioned the sincerity of these brands. Are these sudden supportive advertisements truly promoting inclusivity or are they exploiting marginalized groups in order to maximize profit?
From Target’s rainbow-themed merchandise to Dove’s “real beauty” campaign, many prominent brands have chosen to implement this type of marketing strategy. In an effort to promote the acceptance of LGBT+ people, brands have used advertisements featuring gay couples: Campbell’s “Star Wars” advertisement perhaps taking home the gold medal. Similarly, brands have featured feminist advertisements and slogans, with Dove spearheading the movement.

As a whole, these campaigns and advertisements are important from a societal standpoint. They often stand as aspirational goals for what women and LGBT+ individuals can accomplish. The messages of body positivity, of challenging stereotypical gender roles, and of normalizing queer relationships all truly empower our disenfranchised citizens.
Though it would be a mistake to diminish the strong messages of empowerment and acceptance, many brands have been accused of exploitation in regards to their inclusive advertising campaigns. Take Target, the billion-dollar company which rivals none when selling rainbow apparel for gay pride. Previously, Target had generously supported anti-gay groups and politicians, only changing sides a year after the nationwide legalization of gay marriage. While Target has since atoned for their past sins by heavily donating to LGBT+ charities and organizations, many other brands that promote gay pride simply don’t.


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Always on team Pride. 🌈 #takepride #Pride

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Likewise, brands such as Walmart, that promote feminism and female empowerment (as seen in their 2015 Star Wars commercial) still heavily donate to anti-abortion programs and politicians. These disingenuous marketing promotions have a name; faux activism. When brands promote feminist ideals and LGBT+ acceptance while not supporting these movements or even financially supporting their opposition, their motives become clear. It is important to recognize that companies practice faux activism to jump on trends only if it helps them increase profits.
As University junior and Advertising and Integrated Marketing major Elizabeth Hecht said, “Selling empowerment is the strategy that many companies have been using with their brands within the last few years, but it’s important to make sure the brands you support are actually making real change happen and not just slapping the word empowerment onto an ad.”
While practicing faux-activism isn’t illegal, it is important to recognize it. Research the brands you purchase from and see if they do more than merely spout equality and inclusivity. Do these brands support gender equality within their own organization? Do they participate in LGBT+ community events or charities? Simply put, do these brands practice what they preach? In order to fight against accusations of exploitation, perhaps these million dollar companies can donate some of their profits to organizations and charities which support these marginalized groups.