Education
9:00 am
Wed November 13, 2013

Louisville's Mercy Academy Gets National Recognition for 'You're Not a Princess' Ads

Credit Doe-Anderson

Noting feminist tones, national commentators are discussing an advertising campaign by Louisville's Mercy Academy that tells prospective students, bluntly, "You're Not a Princess."

The ads, created by the Louisville firm Doe-Anderson, include lines such as "be more than the fairest of them all" and "prepare for real life."

Mercy President Mike Johnson said the ads bolster a view—one that's not in dispute these days—that women can achieve anything.

“It’s an interesting twist on things," Johnson told WFPL. "Everyone knows the fairytales and they’re wonderful stories. It’s a different thing when we try to live with real life and we face the actual problems that everybody goes through on a day-to-day basis. That requires people to be able to think and problem-solve and access information and innovate and collaborate with others."

Adweek brought the ad campaign national attention on Tuesday. Its piece picked up on the fact that a Catholic institution—where views don't often gibe with feminists—generated a feminist message:

"What's most remarkable is that a Catholic preparatory school is taking a view of women's education that doesn't end in a prince. Lord have mercy, but Mercy Academy has a progressive view on women's role in the world."

Salon's Mary Elizabeth Williams adds more context, however.  Catholic girls' schools have a history of manifesting just the sort of message Mercy's ads convey, Williams writes.

The Catholic Church may have a long way to go in making its dogma more progressive, but when it comes to educating girls, its history is considerably more impressive. Single sex schools have long produced impressive results in the field of academic and organized sports achievements – and frequently produce young women who hold “significantly less stereotypic attitudes about the role of women in the workplace compared with their counterparts who attended coeducational schools.”

Mercy's history dates back to the late 1800s. The Buechel neighborhood school's aim was to spotlight its efforts to teach students to use education in real-life situations, Johnson said.

“Life can get very real and we prepare ourselves when we’re able to respond to real situations and use our education for that," Johnson said.

The ads also take, as Adweek briefly notes, a pretty clear swipe at Disney's princess line. In 2011, Disney princesses were the top-selling licensed entertainment character franchise in North America, Forbes reported.Products bearing the likeness of Cinderella, Ariel, Tiana and their cohorts "made $1.6 billion in North American retail sales and $3 billion globally."

With a new animated feature premiering on Thanksgiving Eve, the Disney princess line doesn't look like it's slowing anytime soon. (Also, I'm still looking for someone to explain this Ariel Kitchen that's been big in ads recently—how do you cook underwater?

That growth comes nearly seven years after The New York Times published "What's Wrong With Cinderella," which became a lasting conversation-starter on the princess phenomenon and its effect on young girls. Peggy Orenstein wrote:

Maybe Princess is the first salvo in what will become a lifelong struggle over her body image, a Hundred Years’ War of dieting, plucking, painting and perpetual dissatisfaction with the results. Or maybe it isn’t. I’ll never really know. In the end, it’s not the Princesses that really bother me anyway. They’re just a trigger for the bigger question of how, over the years, I can help my daughter with the contradictions she will inevitably face as a girl, the dissonance that is as endemic as ever to growing up female. Maybe the best I can hope for is that her generation will get a little further with the solutions than we did.

Trying to address such concerns, Disney recently ran this ad that played up its notion of "princess," pinning it to virtues such as bravery and generosity.

The princess-obsessed very young girls Orenstein wrote about in 2006 are now about the age where they and their parents are considering where to attend high school.

But on that note, Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan writes, "Most little girls with princess dreams realize on their own that Mickey is a lying sack of mouse," uh, feces.

More ads below: