Why Pantene's New Ad Has Millions Talking

Beth Greenfield, Shine Staff

Why is a man the boss while a woman is still called “bossy”? That’s just one of the eternal gender-stereotype questions tackled in an overseas Pantene ad that’s quickly gone viral on YouTube — with a little help from Sheryl Sandberg.

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“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,” the influential Facebook COO wrote on her Facebook page over the weekend, garnering more than 2,700 likes and 1,200 shares. “Really worth watching. Lean In prize of the day for sure!”

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The 62-second spot, created by the BBDO agency and aired only in the Philippines, has racked up more than 2.9 million views on YouTube since being posted a month ago. With a cover of Tears for Fears' “Mad World” playing in the background that’s haunting, the images are even more so: high-powered men labeled “boss,” “persuasive,” “dedicated,” “neat,” and “smooth” for speaking, walking, and preening, while women doing the same are branded “bossy,” “pushy,” “selfish,” “vain,” and “show-off.” Then comes the inspirational tagline: “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.”

Tweets with the ad’s assigned hashtag, “#WhipIt,” have amounted to thunderous applause from many folks with reach, including Lifeway Kefir CEO Julie Smolyansky, former Obama campaign digital organizer Betsy Hoover and the Levo League:

Bridget Brennan, author of “Why She Buys” and CEO of the Female Factor consulting firm, is also a fan. “Establishing the right tone on a gender issue is so difficult, and Pantene nailed it,” she tells Yahoo Shine in an email. “I think this ad works well for two reasons: First, because women recognize this issue from their own personal experience, and second, the ad does not pit women against men, but speaks to a broader societal issue. The word 'empowering' is overused, but in this case, it is appropriate.”

Pantene is striking a resounding chord in a way that’s already reminiscent of Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty,” which sent tweeters and bloggers into similarly happy tizzies (though it sparked much criticism, too). Those ads — first launched in 2004 with images of real-size women in their underwear and continuing with various phases into earlier this year, with Dove's “Real Beauty Sketches” — took on issues of self-esteem and idealized beauty.

This time around, the theme is success and double standards, and seems perfectly timed given all the buzz about women “having it all” throughout this past year. But Jean Kilbourne, a pioneering expert on sexism in advertising, has another idea of why the commercial is creating such excitement. “Women—and men — are really hungry for positive images,” she tells Yahoo Shine. “People are always asking me to give some positive examples, and I have a lot of trouble coming up with them. I’m always going to the Dove campaign, which isn’t perfect, but it’s what there is.”

Kilbourne notes that considering how successful Dove’s message has been, she's “ been surprised that more marketers haven’t followed suit,” and adds that Pantene should consider bringing its new campaign stateside. “With this kind of response,” she says, “they would be crazy not to.”

That's a notion Pantene seems to grasp, as a company spokesperson tells Yahoo Shine in an email, "Given the huge positive response to this video, Pantene sees a real opportunity to amplify [it] with a campaign beyond the Philippines." No details yet on when that will happen, but we know you'll stay tuned.

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