princess ad 2

The internet was abuzz yesterday with talk about a striking new ad campaign that shatters the princess narrative by telling young women to “prepare for real life.” I spoke with David Vawter, the Chief Creative Officer at Louisville ad agency Doe-Anderson behind the campaign (and husband to Gloss contributor and Mommyish Editor Eve Vawter) about the compelling ads.

AdWeek‘s Rebecca Cullers calls the ads “deeply feminist,” and Salon‘s Mary Elizabeth Williams notes that they’re a “reminder that empowerment begins with education,” and they’re spot on in their assessments. The idea behind the campaign for Mercy Academy, an all-girls, Catholic high school, is that Mercy uniquely prepares young women for the real world—to be self sufficient, independent, and competent. The ads feature imagery of princesses, tiaras, and glass slippers, with phrases like “Life’s not a fairytale,” “You’re not a princess,” and “Don’t wait for your prince. Be able to rescue yourself.”

princess ad 3

I interviewed Vawter (who worked with Courtney Kempf and Whitley Edwards on the campaign) over email about the conception of the campaign, the religious component, and why people are so attached to girls becoming princesses.

princess ad 1

JS: What drew you to work with Mercy Academy?

DV: When we first met with the leadership at Mercy, we were immediately taken with their vision of preparing girls for the real world that awaits them once they are finished with their education.  As the father of an eight-year-old daughter, I want every girl — and their parents — to know that there’s no limit to what they can achieve if they have the right frame of mind and the right preparation.  That’s the idea at the center of this campaign.

How much consideration did you give to the fact that Mercy Academy is a Catholic school? I notice that aside from Mercy’s logo, the ads don’t feature any religious references, and I’m wondering if the conception would have been different had this been a secular institution.

Regarding the Catholic school aspect, we were sensitive to the reality but to us the primary message we wanted to communicate was the “Performance Based Curriculum” that helps Mercy students prepare for the real world.  I think the message would have been largely the same whether or not Mercy was affiliated with the church.   I think it’s safe to say that the voices of women of all faiths (or none) are under-represented in society as a whole, and we felt strongly about calling attention to Mercy’s program for giving girls a better chance to succeed.

In subverting the princess narrative, you’ve created a pretty jarring visual. Why do you think people are so attached to the idea of girls becoming princesses?

Certainly pop culture sells in the idea of being a princess to little girls at a very early age. My daughter has not been immune to the charms of Ariel and her pals.  I guess it’s just a holdover from a previous era where women expected (or were expected by others) to live “happily ever after,” although I suppose characters such as Merida from Brave and Mulan are redefining “princesshood” for today’s girls.

What would an all boy’s school version look like? If women can be better than princesses, what do you think men can outdo?

What would a boy’s version of this campaign look like?  I’d like to think that it would play on similar clichés about popularity and entitlement, while still driving home the basic point about a school that believes in teaching kids how to thrive in the real world, not the one they see on TV or in movies, video games, commercials (oops) etc.


And now, to expose a bit of my personal bias: I went to an all-girls high school with a similar message, and this campaign resonates with me in a big way. What irks me is how revolutionary this is, and how being told “You aren’t a princess” is considered real talk (Jezebel’s coverage of the ads is title “School’s ‘You Are Not A Princess’ Ads Give Girls Much-Needed Real Talk”). I love the campaign personally and want to see much more like it. Schools like Mercy Academy should be celebrated for incorporating real world skills and independence into their curriculum, and well executed, feminist advertising like this ad campaign should be the norm, not the exception.

Photos: Courtesy of Doe-Anderson