Do I need Pantene to tell me not conform?

A new shampoo campaign highlighting the hypocrisy of gender bias has made Caitlin Porter ask whether brands should get involved in such sensitive debates.

Pantene has recently debuted their latest advertising campaign, but it’s not what we have come to expect of the haircare industry. In fact, it’s nothing like it.

If you haven’t yet seen it, here is the link to the Youtube video:

The “parallel worlds” vision follows two individuals, one male and one a female, as they go about their daily lives. Both are professionals in managerial positions, both are polished and good-looking, well-dressed and visibly confident.



In each daily activity, each of our power-people has a label applied to them, which is supposedly indicative of the public’s perception of their behaviour. The male, while leading a board meeting, is boosted by the definitive, bold “BOSS” above his head. The female, in the exact same activity, is labeled “BOSSY.”

While giving a speech, the male is “PERSUASIVE”, while the female is “PUSHY.”

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, you may have noticed the flood of commentary in mainstream media recently centring on sexism in modern society. It all started with Julia Gillard’s now infamous Misogyny speech in Parliament, hurled with unprecedented passion and conviction at a dumbfounded Tony Abbott, which really put full swing into the issue in Australia.

Then came media coverage of the rampant mistreatment and abuse of women in the world’s newest superpower, India, with even Bollywood actresses weighing in on the debate.

This has given rise to greater discussion around the previously taboo subjects of the appalling gender-hate in troubled countries, such as Afghanistan and some African nations.

The question of the relevance of feminism seems to have been reignited in our nation’s psyche, with both media outlets and public contributors not only recognising the validity of the issue but energetically engaging in the debate. People, once more, seem to care.

So, is the time now ripe for an opportunistic brand to cash in on the discussion?

Before you cry hypocrite (I do, after all, work in advertising), I would like to make it clear that I think this is a bold, brilliant and brave effort from Pantene (the three big Bs likely to get you a nod at Cannes). It is truly heartening to see a brand take on such a contentious issue, to take a stand, make a statement – whatever platitude you’d like to apply.

And in all fairness, Pantene are enforcing a positive message. Essentially they are saying, yes, being a woman comes with preconceived notions of your role in society, and this can be tough to overcome – if you act outside of society’s expectations, you can be labeled for it. But don’t let this stop you from pursuing what you want in life. Don’t let the labels hold you back.

I, for one, am fully supportive of this ideal. We will never be free until we reach true equality in the standing of human beings; gender, race, sexuality and physical ability be damned. But how comfortable do I feel to hear it from a shampoo brand? Do I feel that in some way that my morals have been compromised – that my humanity has been commercialised in a bottle of conditioner?

I don’t want my femininity to become fodder in a generic “girl power” sentiment from a brand whose sole purpose in life is to keep my roots oil-free and my split ends under control. And since when did having fabulous hair empower you as a modern woman, anyway?

Next we’ll have Napoleon Cosmetics declaring themselves raging suffragettes, and before we know it, OPI will come out with a new shade of “Feminist Chic” for our perfectly manicured nails. “I am Woman, see me shake my shiny, full-bodied hair!” “The scent of independence – get yours now, while stocks last!”

Now that it’s begun, when will it end? And with the inevitable media attention and legion of bandwagon followers, what if, God forbid, the issue becomes uncool again?

In all honesty, I’m completely torn as to whether I applaud Pantene for recognising that they, as an organisation, are representatives of women, and have chosen to stand behind us in a meaningful way; or whether I despise them for having stolen my righteousness away from me.

Because when it comes down to it, the message is stronger when I hear it from my own mouth. Or my mother’s. Or my friends’, or my boss’. Theoretically, it should feel wrong coming from the carefully engineered communications machine that is a multi-national corporation designed purely for commercial benefit.

But maybe there’s something to be said for shouting it loud across the globe, no longer confined to the isolation of dinner tables and water coolers. Maybe a big brand coming out and confirming something we’ve all known in our hearts, for a very long time, is just what the world needs to start making some changes.

So, women of media, and men too (let us not exclude or discriminate), tell me what you think – how do you feel about a social cause as important as this being essentially hijacked by a shampoo brand? Do you feel that this campaign does more to advance women’s rights and abilities, or Pantene’s?

Caitlin Porter is a trader at UM Brisbane


  1. Wash out more than your hair.
    9 Jan 14
    9:14 am

  2. Hey Leftie. Julia Gillard’s speech, was all about kicking the player and not the ball. The ad got your attention – job done.

  3. Anonymous
    9 Jan 14
    10:12 am

  4. This is the first haircare ad that hasn’t made me feel inferior. I’m ecstatic to see that this time they aren’t showing me Zooey Deschanel and telling me that by using Pantene I can have hair just like hers.

    I think we should be rejoicing that we are seeing a campaign that encourages women to feel good about themselves.

  5. Lexi
    9 Jan 14
    10:46 am

  6. Great article, Caitlin! Loads of women don’t know sexism is still an issue though so I figure whoever’s talking about it (big brand or mum at dinner table) so be it, it needs to be said

  7. EW
    9 Jan 14
    1:07 pm

  8. Agree with Lexi – let’s take it wherever we can get it! The conversation must continue.

    Doesn’t influence my hair product choices, so thanks for the CSA Pantene!

    Great piece Caitlin!

  9. TB
    9 Jan 14
    2:26 pm

  10. Thanks Pantene. It’s nice to see our female protagonist still has gorgeous hair despite a gender pay gap of 17.5%!

  11. Glossy locks
    9 Jan 14
    3:23 pm

  12. I just watched an ad which said ‘with the confidence of great hair (acheived with Pantene) you don’t need to be held back by negative, sexist badging’. What I didn’t watch was an ad which implied a shampoo brand was about to embark on a campaign for sexual equality. They may well go on to try this but for now all it says is that Pantene have uncovered a relevant consumer insight and are endevouring to empower their target audience to have the confidence to take on the challenge they face. I’m not convinced it’s as controversial as this article makes out.

  13. Toby Ralph
    9 Jan 14
    3:23 pm

  14. The enemy of my enemy is my friend is a well-worn path.
    Just because it is facile and morally manipulative for a hair care brand to attach itself to this doesn’t make this bad advertising.
    In fact it’ll probably flog truckloads more root-shiner.

  15. Sam W
    9 Jan 14
    5:11 pm

  16. You make some excellent points in this article Caitlyn! I too am a little torn between being bitter that Pantene has only produced this ad because feminism is trendy at the moment and being elated that the ad highlights the staggering hypocrisy that has plagued our working lives for ever.
    Overall I think it’s a great ad and every little bit helps; even if it is fleeting and perhaps a bit superficial.
    (Comment no.1 is astonishingly moronic and neanderthalic, just btw)

  17. Konrad
    9 Jan 14
    9:21 pm

  18. Maybe P & G can run this ad in Afghanistan and certain African countries amongst others.

    It’s not quite shouting it out across the globe.

  19. Chris Gander
    13 Jan 14
    9:36 am

  20. It breaks the mould. It demands attention. It gets people talking.

    It’s a solid ad. The creatives behind it should be applauded.

  21. Rushdie
    13 Jan 14
    1:13 pm

  22. The ad industry all over the world is now trying to hijack social causes. It makes me want to pewk.The industry which has stoked the fires of rampant materialism and gluttony – and all it’s ills- now turns around and claims to want to save us in a breathtakingly hypocritical way. Like Pantene cares. They almost certainly have research to say their young market are idealistic – what young people aren’t? So they’ve cynically come up with a “higher cause” as it’s now called in advertising briefs everywhere. The worst was Leo Burnetts Sydney trying to bring peace between Pakistan and India using Coke machines. That’s the same Coke that rules the category responsible for an obesity plague amongst young Americans.

  23. Just sayin'
    13 Jan 14
    5:53 pm

  24. Caitlin, do you really wonder “…since when did having fabulous hair empower you as a modern woman?” I’m surprised you’d question such a blindingly obvious, not-terribly-insightful-at-all “insight”.

    Whatever the merits of the wider strategy (and I applaud the effort but hope the execution becomes less generically bland “pan-Asian” next time), I guarantee you P&G have cabinets full of research confirming that having fabulous hair empowers every woman.

    IMHO this is great for Pantene. The discussion’s relevant and the brand’s reinforcing rather than hijacking it. Now they should back that up, supporting businesswoman of the year awards, female entrepreneur awards etc.

  25. BriznEyland
    13 Jan 14
    6:04 pm

  26. Nicely written CP. Good on you for talking it up. Well played.

  27. Tash
    18 Jan 14
    4:53 pm

  28. I would prefer to see companies promoting things in their advertising like whether they use animal testing etc. I don’t look to my shampoo and conditioner for advice on how to conduct myself in my career…