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How Advertisers Can Foster Healthy Discussions in “Femvertising” Campaigns

Despite the rising popularity of social media video platforms like TikTok and Instagram, YouTube dominates the digital landscape for video sharing. And it is the one that continues to attract the highest number of advertisers

Unlike traditional advertising that broadcast messages to consumers without feedback, advertising in the digital age provides two-way communications that creates a public forum airing reactions from praise to ire. And those comments can provide valuable information for marketers.

University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications Advertising Associate Professor and chair Huan Chen and Associate Professor in Artificial Intelligence Yang Feng recently studied the top 10 comments posted on the “Like a Girl” YouTube video, a promotion from Always feminine products, to better understand consumer sentiment about “femvertising,” as well as the relationships between the commenters.

Femvertising” entered the lexicon about a decade ago during an Adweek event in New York City. But the idea started bubbling up with launch of Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign that featured real women with their curves, freckles and wrinkles in their ads in 2004.

In 2014, CoverGirl celebrated female empowerment with its #GirlsCan campaign featuring Ellen DeGeneres, Queen Latifah, Katie Perry, Pink, Janelle Monae and professional hockey player Natalie Wiebe in 2014. Later that year, Always launched its #LikeAGirl video during the Superbowl. By then, hashtag feminism was a part of the zeitgeist, and people were talking about it.

Chen and Feng chose to study the #LikeAGirl video because of its immense popularity and impact — in its first two months on YouTube, it attracted more than 80 million views. Their data set included 42,545 comments that were parsed to reveal the top 10 comment-and-reply units.

The researchers note that while quantitative analysis has been conducted with viewer comments, their study is the first to use qualitative analysis, which offers a more nuanced and complex understanding of the content.

Four themes emerged from the comment-and-reply units: multilayered emotional responses, a gendered society, complex co-existing relationships and a melting pot.

Multilayered emotional responses exposed the prevalence of negative attitude and insults dominating the discourse, especially towards other commenters rather than the ad itself. Users expressed strong emotions, both pro and con, with attacks often directed toward feminism, even though the word feminism never appeared in the ad. Positive sentiments, though less frequent, were primarily articulated by female users who embrace the ad’s empowering message.

The second theme, a gendered society, revealed a male superiority point of view. Assertions that men are more capable and more biologically superior permeated the conversations. The persistence of traditional gender biases underscored the need for challenging ingrained perceptions and fostering discussion that dismantle stereotypes.

In the third theme, complex coexisting relationships, defensive discourses emerged. Users actively defended their opinions, which often deviated from the ad’s context. While limited instances of users attempting to mediate discussions or shifting opinion were present, the prevalence of the defensive comments can hinder the potential for productive conversation and lively exchange.

The fourth theme, a melting pot, encompasses miscellaneous — and sometimes nonsensical — expressions within the conversations. Users shared personal stories, asked rhetorical questions and injected humor into the discourse. Surprisingly, this collection of comments comprised a significant portion of the replies. Personal experiences advocated specific opinions, while genuine and rhetorical questions stimulated critical thinking and diverse viewpoints.

Leveraging strong emotions emerges as a practical tool to shift sentiment in discussions, particularly with engaging female users to support an ad’s message. Identifying individuals who are open to changing their opinions or mediating tense conversation becomes crucial for mitigating negative sentiment.

The researchers recommend that marketers use AI-assisted tools to manage negative comments and guide conversation to more civil and constructive discussions. This recommendation underscores the role of technology in fostering healthier conversations in the digital public sphere. Marketers and advertisers can leverage AI to identify discourteous comments and strategically incorporate constructive comments that encourage commenters to focus on the ad’s content rather than hurling slurs at each other.

The original paper, “Friend or Foe? A mixed method analysis of YouTube users’ replies to top comments of femvertising,” was published in Qualitative Market Research on Nov. 24, 2023.

 Authors: Huan Chen and Yang Feng

 This summary was written by Gigi Marino.

 For an additional perspective on femvertising, read Selling Feminism: How Female Empowerment Campaigns Employ Postfeminist Discourses.



Posted: December 1, 2023
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