Leaning In Together: Empowering Women Through Advertising

Karam Al Masri, Prashanna Nadpurajah, Sairam Raman and Valeria Tama
MBA Perspectives
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Key Takeaways

WHAT? Doing good for women means doing good for business.

SO WHAT? Media influencers like Sheryl Sandberg have been able to gain momentum with this idea and have generated public debate in the marketing sphere.

NOW WHAT? Through female empowering advertising, customer experience designers can create a wider consumer base and influence a product’s acceptance by highlighting positive associations between the brand and societal expectations. 

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When Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, was released in 2013, many championed it as the modern-day feminist movement for women in the workplace. However, the book has been divisive in its reception, as some felt it was a sales pitch for privileged women and did not speak to the nation’s ‘average’ female worker. Despite the differences in opinion, here are two main ideas that customer experience designers can take away from the “Lean In” movement:

1. Bias-Free Advertising: Sandberg (2013) states that true equality eludes women in the workplace due to the lack of female leaders in C-suite roles, which stems from susta​ining the status quo. Marketers have the power to break these stereotypes and biases and promote greater equality through advertising. Good customer experience designers don’t follow the status quo; they redefine it.

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2. Empowering Your Female Audience: Sandberg’s (2013) book resonated with millions due to the fact that she allowed the conversation about female empowerment to be brought to the forefront of workplace politics. She highlights the barriers holding women back and illustrates how they’re detrimental for our society as a whole. Customer experience designers know that the most effective marketing campaigns involve promoting a collective message of empowerment.

Sheryl Sandberg’s “Lean In” movement has contributed to the necessity of portraying diverse female roles within marketing campaigns, yet many brands have a long way to go. However, doing good for women is actually doing good for business, and there are statistics to back it up: women have 80% of spending power and influence 95% ofhousehold purchases.

Take for instance, how women were empowered through advertising during the FIFA Women’s World Cup​ this past summer. Sponsors Nike and Adidas took different approaches in marketing the event and reaching an enthusiastic global audience. Nike’s storytelling ad went viral, showing an empowering video of the U.S. Women’s team undergoing intense training sessions together using the slogan “Strong alone, unstoppable together”. This motto resonated with consumers and inspired loyalty in its campaign.​​​


 Nike Soccer: "American Woman"



Adidas, on the other hand, showed no indication on their website of their ties to the event, which is a stark contrast to their heavy men’s World Cup marketing campaign. Adidas thus failed to create a bond with its female audience, whereas Nike realized the potential of new audiences to target with the rising interest of women’s sports and invested in its inspiring “No Maybes” marketing campaign, which ran for a month before the event. This campaign made Nike's content 121% more associated with the Women's World Cup, with the company being the most mentioned brand intweets leading up to and during the game. Nike’s readiness to “do good” to its female customers did in fact make good business, leading to $7.5 billion revenue in its womenswear category in its third quarterfiscal 2015 results.

Successful customer experience designers understand the importance of empowering women, which aligns with the premise of the “Lean In” movement. Brands like Nike know that embarking on what was traditionally perceived as riskier moves - like breaking female stereotypes - positively impacts their bottom line. Media influencers like Sheryl Sandberg have been able to gain momentum with this idea and have generated public debate in the marketing sphere about the changing trends in consumer needs and expectations. These campaigns have encouraged brands to create ad platforms that treat females as authentic humans, thus creating loyal customers. They highlight the benefits of promoting equality and uplifting messages as a process of collective betterment - in doing so, other brands will follow suit in changing the cultural norms, sparking the institutional changes we need as a society.


Kaplan, Steve (2015), “Women’s World Cup shows how brands are underserving women’s sport,” (accessed October 17, 2015). 

Krom, Kerri (2014), “Marketing and Advertising to Women: Our Research and Statistics,” (accessed October 17, 2015).

Roberts, Daniel (2015), “The real winner of the Women’s World Cup: Nike,” (accessed October 17, 2015). 

Sandberg, Sheryl (2013), Lean in: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

The AMA is pleased to partner with
Professor Markus Giesler and his MBA students from the Schulich School of Business at York University.

Author Bio:

Karam Al Masri, Prashanna Nadpurajah, Sairam Raman and Valeria Tama
Karam Al Masri, Prashanna Nadpurajah, Sairam Raman, and Valeria Tama are students in Markus Giesler’s Customer Experience Design MBA elective course at the Schulich School of Business, York University.
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