One Ad at a Time: How Women Have Gone From Housewives to Super Women in the Advertising Industry

Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

There is something truly unique about the advertising industry. As an advertiser, we have the ability to help propel an entire culture forward by creating compelling stories that resonate with people. Through various channels and avenues, advertisers are taking strides to help propel the male first, American society forward, one ad at a time.

It’s no secret that women in America haven’t always been viewed as equals to their male counterparts. Many times throughout history, women were confined to their homes to be mothers, wives, and caregivers. And that is the image of a woman that was reflected time and time again in advertising. 

Below are a few examples of the portrayal of women in advertising from the 1950s through the early 1970s. The trend you’ll see most is the idea that anything that would make a woman a better housewife was a necessity. 

It’s fair to say that in 2022, we’ve made progress from the images show above, but don’t just take our word for it. Below are a few landmark ads that have helped move the portrayal of women in advertising forward leaps and bounds.

  1. Who Says It’s a Man’s World – TWA (1950)
It’s a Man’s World – TWA (1950)

Are you shocked we found one from the 50s? The tagline of this ad says it all. “Who says ‘it’s man’s world?’ is such a simple, yet thought provoking line, especially for the era; however, America was only a few years removed from WWII where women essentially kept the country running while men were fighting in the war. Although there weren’t many ads that reflected what women could do back then, TWA got it right with this one.

  1. Equal Pay. Equal Time. – Bulova Accutron (1972)
Equal Pay. Equal Time. – Bulova Accutron (1972)

I’m sure the phrase we all have the same number of hours in the day rings a bell to most of you. In fact, that’s exactly what Bulova Accutron was counting on for this ad. The image of a man’s hand and woman’s hand clasped in unity is simple, and empowering, in its own right. But combine it with the words above the image and all that was happening at the time with the Women’s Liberation movement and the Equal Rights Amendment, and you find that the ad is screaming just about as loud as it can.

  1. Power Suit – Ralph Lauren (1980)
Power Suit – Ralph Lauren (1980)

She’s strong. She’s confident. She’s powerful. Although, in today’s society, it’s hard to imagine a world where women hardly worked, and seldomly wore pants, that wasn’t a rarity in the 50s, 60s, or even the 70s. Fast forward a couple decades from the first set of ads we displayed, and this is the image people were starting to carry around of women. Designers such as Ralph Lauren were creating and encouraging the wearing of pant suits, and movies like 9 to 5 were embracing and showcasing a world of working women. Times were changing, and so was the advertising industry.

  1. Like a Girl – Always (2014)

This is one of my all time favorite ads. I was first shown this ad when I was a Freshman in college, and I remember just sitting there with tear stung eyes thinking about how unerringly powerful a commercial can be. What I love most about the Like a Girl commercial is that you get to see that doing anything ‘like a girl’ is a learned behavior. The ad was spot on in showcasing a world of women who lack confidence in themselves and their ability to just be the woman they were meant to be. I think Dove created one of the most remarkable advertising campaigns in recent history with this one.

  1. Imagine the Possibilities – Barbie (2015)

If Barbie can do it, then so can I! That’s essentially the message here, right? Why can’t you be a college professor, or a veterinarian, or coach a men’s soccer team? The possibilities of what women can do are endless, and this ad helped to extend that message to a far wider audience.

These may only be a few examples, but they are some of the best to showcase where advertisers started to where they are now. The progress isn’t over, it will never truly be over, but this is certainly a great start.

You are what you consume, so if this generation gets to grow up with advertisements that show the vast amount of opportunities available to women or what it means to do things ‘like a girl’, then I think we’re moving in the right direction. Like I said, the progression of culture is slow, but we as advertisers can help get us there a little faster, one ad at a time.

Which ad shown was your favorite? Let us know by commenting below!


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