What Sells, Sex or Empowerment?

Today, Monday March 9th, the 59th Session of the UN's Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) will begin.

The Metro NY Chapter of the U.S. National Committee for UN Women and the U.S. National Committee for UN Women will host an expert panel as an official parallel event to CSW.

The panel will discuss what advertisers can do, and are doing, to more positively shape the perceptions of women and girls to advance gender equality. And I am excited to be a part of it.

• Leslie Yazel, Executive Editor, Cosmopolitan
• John Osbourn, President & CEO, BBDO
• Shenan Reed, President Digital North America, MEC Global
• Judy John, CEO & CCO, Leo Burnett Toronto
• Seema Patel, SVP / Account Director of COVERGIRL, Grey Advertising
• Shakthi Jothianandan, Researcher, Vogue
• Warren Hoge, Senior Advisor for External Relations, International Peace Institute; former New York Times journalist 

One of the interesting question posed to our panel is "What sells, sex or empowerment?"

"Sex sells" has been a mantra of the advertising industry for as long as anyone can remember. And let's be honest, it has worked. Sexy, salacious advertising has sold cars, beer, potato chips and a host of other products over the years. Mostly products target to men.

And as much as the gender roles are switching at home, we still target a female head of household and I'm not sure sex is what is selling her those potato chips, toilet paper or soup.

I'm not against sexy advertising. Where others see negative portrayals of women, I see advertising "theatre." I guess I should be more concerned as the mother of a young daughter who I fully expect will grow up to rule the world some day. But I'd like to believe I have more of an influence over that then any advertising.

What I do find fascinating is this new trend of empowerment advertising. I find myself loving these ads, sharing them, talking about them, mentioning the advertiser (not something I can do for most ads I see). And I have to ask, are they working?

Always #LikeAGirl has 56 million views on YouTube.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches has over 65 million views on YouTube.

In comparisonCarl's Jr.'s "Too Hot for TV" has only 10.3 million views,

Is the industry changing?

The biggest award in the advertising industry is the Cannes Lion and this year we will have the first ever Glass Lion, "The Lion for Change -- which honours work that challenges gender bias and shatters stereotypical images of men and women which remain rooted in marketing messages."

Does empowerment advertising work?

Pantene's Not Sorry #ShineStrong has over 15 million views on YouTube and is reported to have sold more Pantene.

Leanin.org partnered with Getty Images to create stock images that break down gender stereotypes and they report selling more of these images.

So is it the industry or is it the consumer? Advertising will follow the sales numbers, and if performance on empowerment messages gets better performance than on sex messages we will continue to see more empowerment messages.

Consumers will vote with their wallets.