Pantene has followed in Dove's noble footsteps by releasing a commercial disguised as a viral video. Time praised the commercial today with an enthusiastic blog post titled, "Pantene Powerfully Breaks Down Every Sexist Workplace Stereotype in One Ad" (subhed: "A brave new advertising model"). It seems beauty advertisers (and Time) have figured out the Upworthy appeal.
As Wire contributor Alex Litel explained last week, Upworthy-style content is "emotionally potent or striking stories that will provoke maximum shareability on Facebook and Twitter." Pantene's ad is just that.
The ad showcases the differences between how men and women are perceived in the workplace: a man is a "boss," while a woman is "bossy." A man who cares about his appearance is "neat," but a woman who does the same is "vain." Then the ad says to heck with it — you ladies deserve to look good. And looking good is a feminist act. A working woman with shiny hair bounces across the street, and the text onscreen reads, "Don't let labels hold you back." From buying our shampoo.
Perhaps Pantene decided to create the ad because Dove has successfully capitalized on the Upworthy style in recent months. Dove's "Real Beauty Sketches" ad campaign tells women "you are more beautiful than you think," and (kind of) proves that point by hiring a portrait artist to do different blind sketches of women based on women's descriptions of themselves and other people's descriptions of them. The portraits based on women's descriptions of themselves turn out uglier. Women don't know how beautiful they are! Women need to be nicer to themselves! Treat yourself to some Dove body wash! Every single girl from my college sorority shared this groundbreaking video on Facebook.
So developing shareable, "powerful," and seemingly feminist content is a smart business decision for brands like Pantene and Dove. Why buy TV ad space when women will spread the word on social media for free? As Derek Thompson at The Atlantic notes, Upworthy's share-power is incomparable. (Joe Weisenthal tweets the relevant graph.)
Beauty companies can use any means they like to promote shampoo. It's just disingenuous to pretend that these viral videos are anything but advertising. The goal is not to empower women to stand up for themselves in the workplace, but to empower them to buy something that will make their hair and skin look nicer.
Lucky for Pantene, one prominent feminist has already fallen for their new ad. Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg gave it her "Lean In prize of the day." Over 1,000 shares and counting.