Secret’s Latest Ad Campaign Offers Nothing New—and That’s Exactly Why It Works

Don't call the P&G-owned antiperspirant brand's message virtue signaling

A still from Secret
Secret's year-long campaign kicked off during the Golden Globes. Secret
Headshot of Paul Hiebert

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Secret’s latest ad campaign, which debuted during Sunday’s Golden Globes telecast and will run throughout the year on digital platforms and linear TV, features a diverse group of strong, confident women among superimposed statements such as “Don’t sweat taking the spotlight,” “Don’t sweat calling the shots,” and “Don’t sweat raising the bar.”

The spot’s central aim, apart from selling product: inspiring women to challenge the status quo.

Today, the strategy of brands associating themselves with female empowerment has become commonplace, but experts argue Secret’s campaign is particularly effective because of the brand’s long history of championing strong, independent women.

“Secret was among the first deodorants to advertise directly to women, with the still-famous tag from the early ’70s of ‘Strong enough for a man, but made for a woman,’” said Samantha Skey, creator of the #Femvertising Awards, which honors brands that seek to break down stereotypes while building up women and girls. “While the language sounds archaic today, it still points to the fact that Secret has celebrated women’s strength, boldly asserting that women’s perspiration may match that of men, since its early days.”

According to Sara Saunders, associate brand director for Secret, in the 1970s Secret was one of the first brands to showcase women as college students in its advertising. In the 1980s, Secret showcased women balancing a career with family life. In the 1990s, Secret focused on helping to build girls’ self-esteem and confidence.

“While Secret’s campaign messaging has evolved over time, the brand has always supported women’s advancement by portraying confident, modern women in its campaigns and communications,” Saunders said.

Dove’s “Real Beauty” campaign and Patagonia’s consistent effort of being environmentally conscious are further examples of brands doing issue-based marketing right.

“Value signaling is the hottest marketing trend as we enter this decade, and it’s rampant among CPG brands, tech brands and more,” said Katie Martell, a marketing consultant who’s worked with companies such as Microsoft, Adobe and Toyota, and author of an upcoming book on the intersection of advertising and social movements.

However, without the earned credibility that comes from championing a particular cause over a stretch of time, brands can risk taking a misstep with their messaging. Take Pepsi’s attempt to weigh in on Black Lives Matter with the help of Kendall Jenner, which quickly became a textbook case of how not to engage with modern political movements.

“When a brand doesn’t have a history of commenting on a cause, consumers call them out for it,” Martell added.

Finding the right approach to supporting a social cause can be tricky. According to survey data from the market research firm Morning Consult, 29% of U.S. adults say they’ve stopped buying a company’s products or services because of a political action or stance it took.

But for the P&G-owned Secret, which has pushed for equal pay in sports and pledged to feature “100% women-made” music in all future campaigns, the overall message of female empowerment extends beyond just the marketing.

“Women have embraced Secret not just for this protection against sweat, but because we’ve shown we’re willing to fight for progress and equality right alongside them,” said Secret’s Saunders. “We know from consumer feedback and product sales that these actions matter to women—they’re looking for brands to champion the values and issues they support, and they’re supporting Secret in return.”

While Secret declined to disclose specifics, Saunders said Procter & Gamble’s beauty division has the only female CEO among the world’s top 10 beauty companies, and that women make up over half of the division’s management team.

“We believe that a diverse and inclusive organization (gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and thought) is essential to getting the best ideas that connect with our diverse consumer base,” added Saunders.

A quick tally of Procter & Gamble’s overall corporate leadership team shows 19 men and 13 women.

Secret’s new creative is part of the brand’s “All Strength, No Sweat” campaign, showcasing musical artist Jessie Reyez, actor Camila Mendes, business executive Swin Cash, fitness guru Ainsley Rodriguez, and actor and entrepreneur Shenae Grimes-Beech. In keeping with its promises, the soundtrack was written and performed by Reyez.

“The Secret brand’s focus on women’s social issues is long-standing,” said Skey, who also serves as CEO of She Media, a digital media company that runs publications such as SheKnows, StyleCaster and HollywoodLife. “From wage gap to unabashed career ambitions, to anti-bullying among girls, the consistency of the message is impressive. Yes, it’s deodorant, not public policy in support of gender equality, but media and advertising shape societal norms, and [brands] should use their power, and their pocketbooks, for good.”

While Saunders declined to disclose how much the spot cost to produce, she said it was made by Secret’s internal agency, and that the company’s in-house strategy has resulted in producing ads for about 10% the cost of using traditional agencies.

In Procter & Gamble’s 2019 annual report, the company revealed net sales of $67.7 billion, up from $66.8 billion the year prior. The company’s beauty division, which includes brands such as Old Spice, Head & Shoulders and Secret, accounted for 19% of net sales.

@hiebertpaul Paul Hiebert is a CPG reporter at Adweek, where he focuses on data-driven stories that help illustrate changes in consumer behavior and sentiment.
Publish date: January 8, 2020 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT