A 60-second ad released by Pantene last month in the Philippines called "Be Strong and Shine," which tackles the dichotomy of gender labels, has gone viral far beyond the island country, with more than 5.9 million views and thousands of comments to date from around the world, according to Pantene parent company Procter & Gamble.
The video exposes hidden gender double standards in the workplace — a prevalent theme, not just in Filipino culture, where the notion still exists that women should not be too assertive or strong-willed when it comes to getting what they want. But does the connection of the ad’s message to using Pantene products diminish its power?
The strong, wildfire response to the ad, aided by accolades from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, spurred P&G to expand its #ShineStrong campaign to the U.S., “to awaken everyone to these perceptions and stereotypes,” P&G said; the ad made its U.S. television debut this morning at 9am ET during ABC’s “The Year.”
The ad shows women and men in the same professional situations, with labels such as “smooth,” “boss” and “neat” referring to the men, while the corresponding women are called “show-off,” “bossy” and “vain.”
Sandberg shared a link to the video on her Facebook page, saying, “This is one of the most powerful videos I have ever seen illustrating how when women and men do the same things, they are seen in completely different ways. Really worth watching. Lean In prize of the day for sure!”
Deb Henretta, Group President of P&G Global Beauty, said this about the campaign: “Pantene and P&G brands reach billions of women around the world, and we want to use this scale and influence to be an agent of change. We are excited about this global #ShineStrong campaign to help women embrace their strength and shine.”
Independent of the product, the campaign is indeed an empowering call to women to not let labels hold them back and to “be strong and shine.” But for some, the fact that the ad is for a beauty product negates the positive message, even implying that women’s power is reliant on their appearance — an association that is understandably raising some feminists' hackles.
“I have no ideological objection to companies using female empowerment to sell me stuff,” said Slate’s Katy Waldman. “But spots like Pantene's ... are irksome because they equate challenging sexism with buying a product — and a beauty product, at that.”
When compared to Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, a highly acclaimed series of ads that highlighted the beauty of “real” women and encouraged women to see it within themselves — regardless of which soap they use — Pantene’s approach to female empowerment could come across as slightly loaded. As SF Gate’s Harrison Jacobs said of the two campaigns: “You could endorse [Dove’s] 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.”
Now that the campaign has officially spread to the U.S., time will tell whether Pantene’s message will resonate or remain in feminists’ crosshairs.