Brands today are more inclined to focus on campaigns that spotlight social issues, rather than persuasive demonstrations of why their product is a good purchase. This provides increased brand recognition through rapid-fire shares on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms.

But does social media “issues hijacking” really work for brands? Is it aligning them with a cause, positively transforming brand positioning and impacting bottom line? Or, in fact, are customers either seeing straight through the marketing ploy, or missing the connection between brand and cause entirely.

One such cause that brands have truly capitalised on and championed is female empowerment.

Conversations about “new feminism” are expanding widely on social media. Starting from organic discussion around feminist issues or hashtag campaigns for solidarity with causes – social media has become a space where feminism is being rapidly catalysed, whether it’s on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. “Networked feminism” is a phenomenon of now.

This has not only led to a widespread social movement, but has also enhanced the role of feminism in marketing and advertising.

One of the latest feminist brand campaigns comes from pharmaceutical company Allergen in the form of #ActuallySheCan, which was launched a month after the merger of Actavis PLC and Allergen. The campaign aims to help young women learn and share information with one another about healthcare and wellness, including contraceptive options.

A combination of an educational website about different forms of birth control, live events packed with celebrities and a social media engagement, #ActuallySheCan attempts to connect with millennial women “in their own language”.

The campaign, which incorporates facial recognition software that assigns users emojis based on their facial expressions, which they can then share with their friends, has received high levels of engagement, with 3,337 hashtag mentions since its launch across 75 different countries around the world. There was a spike of 1,129 mentions on August 12th, when the celebrity “face” of the campaign, Glee star Lea Michele, encouraged conversation with the tweet:

71% of the online conversation is driven by 17-24 year olds, suggesting that the brand’s message is being picked up by its millennial target market.

But is it driving Allergen brand awareness and achieving the brand alignment that Allergen might have hoped for? Whilst buzz around the hashtag is undeniable, there have only been 18 posts that have mentioned both #ActuallySheCan and the pharmaceutical company, compared with the 2,289 posts that mentioned #ActuallySheCan and Lea Michele.

Its early days in the campaign’s lifecycle, but for it to succeed it must be authentic. And for a brand to be authentic, it needs to practice what it preaches: be totally clear about what it is and what it does best. When a brand’s rhetoric is out of sync with customers’ actual experiences and its marketing efforts are seen as little more than a tag line, then the campaign is at risk: at best it becomes a waste of time, and at worst, the brand’s integrity and future persuasiveness suffers.

Whether #ActuallySheCan proves to be a success for Allergen remains to be seen, but we know from other healthcare campaigns that have focussed on empowering women, success is possible.

FCB Inferno London’s “This Girl Can” for Sport England and Procter & Gamble’s Always brand’s #LikeAGirl campaign were both big winners at the Cannes Lions and Lions Health creativity festivals in June.

Always’s #LikeAGirl video represents one of the most successful feminist brand campaigns. After contrasting post-puberty females’ and males’ stereotypes associated with the phrase “Like a girl” with younger girls’ more positive interpretations, the video proceeds to dissect the socialisation of women to feel weak. Its empowering message made it one of the most successful viral videos of last year, with 749,092 hashtag mentions since launching on June 26th 2014.

Successful social campaigns need to be ground breaking and ask audiences to engage either by sharing their stories or incorporating the brand messaging into their conversation. Furthermore, they need to connect with a specific demographic that is already susceptible to and supportive of the message a brand is communicating.

The #LikeAGirl campaign taps into very real issues and emotions and inspires genuine engagement from an interested audience.

A campaign like this does run the risk of taking on a life of its own independent of the brand (as we are seeing currently with #ActuallySheCan and Allergen), but #Always has remained the top hashtag associated with #LikeAGirl.

The same is true for Gap Inc.’s #letsdomore campaign. Interestingly, #letsdomore and the brand’s commitment to women’s rights now contribute to most of the online conversation around the Gap brand.

These brands are imitating the “hashtag activism model”- establishing brand recognition by creating active and empowered communication in line with that of non-promoted or organic feminist social campaigns. Examples include the thriving social justice campaign #StrongerThan launched by the Taliban attack victim Malala Yousafzai promoting hope, equal education for all girls and peace, and the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag fighting for the return of the Nigerian schoolgirl kidnappings last year.

The common theme for all these campaigns is a sentiment of hope and progress built by a unified social media front as users share, for example, what they are “stronger than”, or why, in fact, it is empowering to be “like a girl”. Women (and men) are able to share their experiences and relate to those they read, finding empowerment in unity.

As “networked feminism” expands online, brands are presented with the opportunity to connect with this very focussed, engaged and galvanised audience group. Do it authentically and they will reap the commercial benefits, whilst at the same time giving women across the world a voice.

Stephanie Newby

Stephanie Newby


Stephanie Newby is CEO of Crimson Hexagon.