After femvertising, the next step is humvertising


Studies have shown that femvertising works very well, in all types of media, in pictures and on film. The resistance to advertising decreases and it instead raises curiosity.

In a recent post I published an interview with Nina Åkestam, a PhD from the Stockholm School of Economics, who’s thesis was named “Understanding Advertising Stereotypes” and studied what happens when creative communication violates social norms and stereotypes.

Christina Knight, a Swedish copywriter, creative director, author and lecturer has been discussing gender equality in advertising and in the advertising business for decades.

Christina Knight thinks it’s time for more humvertising.

She thinks it may now be time to take an even broader look at the role and possibilities of advertising. It’s time for advertising that encourages and provide power. Regardless of gender, skin color or culture. 


Christina Knight is one of the very few female creative directors in Sweden and has over 30 years of experience as a CD and copywriter. She is also an avid lecturer and author of “Mad Women – A Herstory of Advertising” and “Not Buying it – A Guide to a New Era of Advertising”. Two books which have contributed greatly to the debate about the advertising industry’s lack of equality and diversity. Both in Sweden and internationally.

Christina Knight notes that femvertising has been a winner for some time.

“It is politically correct and opportune. Obviously, you can win advertising prices with femvertising. But it is too early to say if it is the sign of a break in trends”, she says.

One brand that woke up early is Dove. They launched their campaign “Real beauty” in 2004. The origins were market surveys that, among other things, gave the depressing answer that 98 percent of women didn’t think they were looking good enough. Dove then began to consciously show normal women of all ages, sizes and with varying looks in their advertising. With the goal of contributing to more normal beauty ideals.

Among the first examples was the film Evolution, which shows how much retouching and manipulation is needed to make the models in the cosmetics ads just as beautiful as the pictures.

“Dove not only works with femvertising in communication and advertising, but has, for example, also started his Self-Esteem Project”, says Christina Knight.

The project has been going on for more than 10 years and aims to counteract negative body fixation. By training teachers, parents and other adults, they want to help young girls. According to Dove’s own data, this has reached over 20 million young people so far.

And this has not only applied to young women. Ten years ago, the Dove Pro Age hygiene and skincare series was also launched. Instead of talking about anti-age and that women must look young, like the other skincare brands, they celebrate the mature woman.

“Of course, all this is very good. But there is a limit, I think. Dove has dwelled women’s poor self-esteem long enough. ‘OK, you made your point’, I would say. Now we know. Now we move on and focus on something that strengthens women rather than almost cement their poor self-esteem”, she says. 

She thinks there have been far enough campaigns such as “The Doors” (where more women choose to enter the door for “average” rather than the “beautiful”) or “Sketches” which show how much more beautiful the outside world describes a woman than she does herself.

“I long for advertising that is encouraging and provide power. That shows women as great, strong, role models”, says Christina Knight, pointing at Chevrolet’s Silverado film “Her horse” or H&M’s “She’s a lady” as good examples.

“There are films that are dedicated to empowering women. I would like to see much more of that. But most of all I would like to see some more inclusive advertising. Advertising has an extreme focus on being a woman. I want to see more humvertising – human advertising, advertising that focuses on what it means to be human, regardless of gender, skin color or culture!”

Advertising reflects the view of society, but it also has great opportunities to influence the view of society itself.

Christina Knight often talks about advertising history in her lectures for example. Advertising has always told us what it means to be a woman.

During World War II, women were portrayed as strong and independent. By then the men had gone to war, so society needed women in industry and they needed role models. But, then the war ended and the men returned to their jobs. So the dream of “The American Housewife” was born.

Christina Knight recalls that advertising takes up such a large part of the public space and it is therefore also important to remember the joint responsibility that rests on marketers and communicators.

A strong reason why advertising looks the way it does is, of course, the structure of the industry itself. In general, an isolated reserve for barely middle-aged, well-paid metropolitan residents, preferably men, all of Swedish descent domiciled in the same residential areas where they spend time with like-minded people.

“This cannot be changed in the short term. However, we need to break the structures much more. It will be so much more fun when that’s done! But the development is painfully slow”, thinks Christina Knight.

When she was creative director at Ingo, the function was shared between her and Björn Ståhl, which she thinks was a good way to create balance and enable different perspectives.

“Each agency would benefit from a shared CD creation, male and female, just as diversity promotes the agency.”

Christina Knight calls for more collegiate feminism, to support and promote balance and diversity. She points out that awareness is increasing, but still needs to increase, among companies, their marketing managers and their consultants.“If you can’t talk to half the population, you can’t expect to be profitable. If you don’t buy the message of justice or equality, you should in any case be able to relate commercially. 

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