Stephanie Pankiw (L) studies positive feminist messages in jewelry ads. She is supervised by Dr. Barbara Phillips (R). (Photo: David Stobbe)

Real women, better ads

Federica Giannelli



Marketing master’s student Stephanie Pankiw has been working with Regina-based jewelry company Hillberg & Berk on how to include more effective positive, feminist messages in their advertising as part of the company’s mission to empower women through jewelry “one sparkle at a time.”

By interviewing 20 women who buy jewelry regularly, Pankiw asked what kind of ads they wanted to see and how the company could better communicate this.

“Women in my study want to see themselves represented in jewelry ads,” said Pankiw. “They want to see women from different ethnicities and body types, from a variety of ages and in professional settings. Definitely something different from what you see traditionally in most jewelry ads.”

While Hillberg & Berk has already included diversity with a campaign featuring Indigenous models, Pankiw found that jewelry brands show mostly young, thin, able-bodied and highly attractive white models in their ads. In the past year, she analyzed about 200 magazine ads from major brands such as Tiffany, Cartier, Gucci, and Rolex. Less than three per cent of these ads used non-traditional models.

“Hillberg & Berk is already committed to women’s empowerment,” said Barbara Phillips, Pankiw’s supervisor. “The company devotes part of customers’ purchases toward community programs for women’s education and training, and they want to convey their social commitment better in their ads.”

This concept is not new. Companies try to include activities designed to have a positive impact on society into their product advertising — it’s called corporate social responsibility (CSR) messaging.

“We believe that if luxury brands and, in general, companies understand the impact of CSR activities on consumers’ view of their businesses, and know how to communicate these activities correctly, businesses may be more likely to engage in CSR activities that benefit society,” said Phillips.

The team found that some women were skeptical or just indifferent in general about companies trying to include CSR messaging in their ads. They were shown some samples from traditional jewelry advertising.

“They had a prejudice that this kind of advertising would be used as a politically correct move,” said Pankiw. “Others were just not interested in seeing empowering messages. They just wanted to buy the jewelry.”

But this changed when Pankiw showed the women a mock ad that combined an uplifting CSR slogan crafted by her, with a Hillberg & Berk photo of an Indigenous model. The women made a positive inference about the company’s commitment to inspiring women, and made a connection about how the company cared both about the quality of their products and their commitment to women’s empowerment.  

Pankiw’s research also recommends strategies for including positive CSR messaging into advertising. This may include designing jewelry for devoting part of the revenue to causes such as breast cancer or funding women’s educational programs.

Funding for the partnership came from Mitacs’ research internship program, which connects companies with researchers to solve business challenges. Mitacs is a national, not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation.

“Mitacs is very beneficial for research because it can help us connect with businesses and solve practical problems,” said Phillips.

Pankiw and Phillips presented their findings on May 7th to the company, and later at the Mitacs Research Showcase to introduce Members of the Legislative Assembly to some of the most innovative research projects, researchers, interns and industry partners supported by Mitacs.

Federica Giannelli is a graduate student intern in the USask research profile and impact unit. This content runs through a partnership with The StarPhoenix.


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