BBDO Guerrero in Manila has created a shampoo ad for the Philippines that’s elicited hurrahs from women around the world, including Lean In author and Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. The Pantene commercial shows a sequence of working men and women doing exactly the same thing with opposite interpretations—“boss” vs. “bossy,” and “dedicated” vs. “selfish.” Set to a female cover of Tears for Fears’ anthem, “Mad World,” the sequence focuses more on a statement about the double standard for women in the workplace than on the product it’s hawking in the last two seconds. But Pantene then brings home the moral of its campaign, with an excellent message to consumers if ever there was one: “Don’t let labels hold you back. Be strong and shine.”
The brand’s YouTube page mentions that, “70 percent of men think women need to downplay their personalities to be accepted.” In ways, this #WhipIt campaign is more than just a demonstration of double standards by label-flipping, as assigning gender roles to hair products has been its own challenge. (This Dove for Men’s Brazilian ad, which went viral earlier this year, is a clever example of that.) A closer look reveals this Pantene ad is what the execs would call a “brand win” for everyone. Visually, the commercial features men and women equally groomed, uniformly filmed in panning hero shots, with slow-motion head-turns and that bouncy strut no grooming brand can avoid.
But what makes this campaign truly remarkable, however, is that it took So. Friggin. Long. for someone to make it. Where empowerment agendas have succeeded in different demographies they have all but run in the other direction when it comes to American women. Suburban mothers are still the target of housecleaning supplies and Budweiser would have you convinced men despise their girlfriends, and women won’t touch booze unless it’s under 90 calories and bought by a dude. Even the visual language of traditional American brand campaigns has all but died. Viewers are force-fed catch-phrases, jingles, and hideously misguided celebrity endorsements. If you’re DirectTV, you get all three to one parodical effect (Can I get an upgrade, Beyonce?). It’s worth noting that while BBDO Manila scored an unimpeachable coup in the empowerment department (though their use of a #WhipIt hashtag instead of a #FlipIt one is a complete oversight), its North American sister agencies, continue to come up with some of the most postmodern female spokespeople, such as the Orbit Gum “Dirty Mouth?” spokeswoman and Vanessa Williams as the sardonic voice of the brown M&M. If Sarah McLaughlin’s PETA ads are any indication, what made the Pantene commercial almost impossible for the U.S. might just be that we are still not ready for un-ironic sincerity.