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Advertising geared toward a message of female “empowerment” is all the rage these days.

Fuelled by successful campaigns from the likes of Dove and Always, scores of marketers are now trying to hawk their products – from sports apparel to makeup, shampoo, and lingerie – by claiming feminist ideals. But when are these ads contributing to the conversation, and when are they simply manipulative?

That’s the question Toronto ad agency John St. is asking in its latest parody video.

It’s a fake pitch for a supposed new female-focused agency called Jane St., where the men undergo hug training and the walls are decorated with posters that read, “If she’s crying she’s buying.” The fictional agency claims to help marketers sell to women by exploiting their most acute insecurities.

The video is cheeky and even a bit provocative at times.

These online videos lampooning trends in the ad industry are an annual tradition for the agencies nominated at a Canadian award show held by industry trade magazine Strategy. The ones created by John St. have been particularly on point, and as such have become known beyond just the Canadian marketing world. It had a viral hit with “Catvertising,” which made fun of advertisers obsessively chasing Internet trends by creating a fake ad agency entirely dedicated to branded cat videos. Last year it won a Lion at the Cannes advertising festival for another video spoofing the abundance of ads based on pranking unsuspecting people.

This year’s video mocks what has become a cliché in some of the less well-executed advertising for women: fasten on something they hate about themselves, emphasize that self-doubt, and then present the brand as a philanthropic champion of women’s healing and self-actualization.

The spoof takes the trend of “femvertising” to extremes, including conducting research by offering free therapy sessions for school-aged girls to find out what they feel worst about, and exploit those emotions for advertising.

“They may not even know they have these insecurities, so it’s really important that we dig them up,” one agency executive says in the video.

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