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5 campaigns that bucked traditional gender roles

5 campaigns that bucked traditional gender roles Drew Hubbard

It's possible that I notice gender roles in advertising more than the average 39-year-old male. Mostly because I'm a stay-at-home dad. But also because I eschew historically traditional gender roles. Ever since I was a kid, the "dad goes to the office while mom stays at home with the kids" plan has never appealed to me.

So it's refreshing to notice the recent trend of brands that have embraced an expanding definition of family. Bold brands are crafting marketing and advertising that seeks to bolster the perception of what families can be -- most notably and obviously by incorporating gay couples into their creative executions and story lines. But embracing a changing definition of "American family" can be effective in more subtle ways, too. By simply turning the traditional "dad at work, mom at home" structure on its ear, a wider audience of modern families can be reached.

Here are some examples of brands that have decided to incorporate a changing and fluid definition of gender roles into their marketing. This isn't a completely new trend, as you'll see. But it's one that's going to become increasingly mainstream over the next couple of years, and there are multiple roads that brands can take.

Here's looking forward to a time when articles such as this one become unnecessary, irrelevant, and outdated.

IKEA (1994)

Back in 1994, IKEA paved the way for a long (and long overdue) rise in ads featuring gay couples. As you might imagine, there was plenty of backlash, as there always is when brands decide to do something unconventional (no matter how needed it may be). As such, for many years, this ad was only the first ripple in what would eventually -- much later -- become a legitimate wave.

In 1994, IKEA probably didn't foresee that its groundbreaking ad would continue to earn it online and social love for decades to come. The folks at IKEA just wisely recognized that not all families fit into the husband-wife-and-two-kids box. So they went outside of it.

Fortunately, these days, there are more campaigns featuring gay couples than can be featured here. Check out some of the best here.  

Barneys (2014)

Gay people and gay couples in ads. Yawn. Right? I'm so glad that's the case these days. But you know what's still quite uncommon? Transgender representations in ads. Except, that is, at Barneys. The bold marketers behind this fashion brand decided to put a spotlight on transgender issues with its model selection for its spring 2014 campaign. (Gasp.) Yes! I said 2014, which means Barneys' campaign actually preceded Caitlin Jenner's debut last year, which has obviously brought an unprecedented level of attention to transgender issues since then.

We're seeing more incorporation of transgender individuals into ads these days, from the likes of Google, Airbnb, and others. But just remember: Barneys was one of the precious few to do it before Caitlin made it "safe."

Pantene (2013)

Moving out of the LGBTQ realm, let's talk about the ladies. In recent years, arguably kicked off by the smash success of Dove's long-running "Real Beauty" campaign, empowerment marketing has seen a huge surge. To the point that it's now rightfully the victim of some pretty spot-on satire.

Few would dispute the value of marketing that builds confidence in young women, and as such, brands have been quick to embrace that message. Less common, however, are the brands that directly address the often-challenging role of women in the corporate world. Kudos to Pantene for showcasing this unique angle of empowerment marketing by casting a light on the double standards faced particularly by successful career women.

Moschino Barbie (2015)

Despite the bold messages in some of the aforementioned campaigns, perhaps none is as unconventional as the Moschino Barbie ad above, in which a boy plays with a doll. (Insert hysterical screams here.)

The sight is so unconventional that you spend a few seconds waiting for the punchline. It doesn't come.

Now, as Adweek points out, this ad is a bit hard to categorize. The creative was led by Moschino, and its creative director refers to the spot as more of a "fauxmercial" -- a parody of the iconic 1980s Barbie spots. But that doesn't mean it's a joke, and the end result is the same as a traditional spot: a commercial demonstrating that boys, too, can play Barbies and love fashion. And the piece is perhaps even more shareable due to its homage.

Swiffer Wet Jet (2015)

Last but not least, the above creative might seem unremarkable. And it is. But the message is sadly too rare in advertising: Men clean too. They don't just make messes. Swiffer has been trying to tell us this for a few years with its "Man Up, Clean Up" campaign. Let's hope more brands start to listen.

Drew Hubbard is a social media and content marketing specialist.

On Twitter? Follow Hubbard at @DrewHubbard. Follow iMedia at @iMediaTweet

"Male and female symbols on black grunge background." image via iStock.

Drew is mainly a dad, but he's also a social media and content marketing guy. Originally from Kansas City and a graduate of The University of Missouri, Drew will gladly discuss the vast, natural beauty of the Show Me State. Drew and his wife,...

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