I know what I want for International Women’s Day. And it’s more than McDonald’s briefly flipping their iconic golden arches.
Progress towards more varied, inclusive and honest portrayals of women has not been perfect, but we have undoubtedly seen a shift in the right direction. However, I’d like to argue that this shift exists in two distinct phases: Marketing Feminism and Feminist Marketing.
I consider Marketing Feminism to be the baby step, where brands leverage a ‘trend’ that offers commercial value and cultural relevance.
It’s a move that makes business sense, seen at its most opportunistic when brands commit to simply driving awareness of the topic - often using events such as International Women’s Day as an opportunity to showcase their feminist credentials, but really falling much closer to tokenism. Enter, Johnnie Walker’s limited edition female makeover as ‘Jane Walker’.
Then you have those who go as far as making Insta-friendly statements. From high-end to high street, brands are recognising the shareability of the feminist ‘brand’. They create forms of wearable protest and affiliation, which certainly helps get mainstream attention, but can feel somewhat hollow. Sending a rather fragile looking model down a Dior Spring/Summer 2017 runway sporting a t-shirt stating “We should all be feminists” jumps on a topical bandwagon, but remains fundamentally superficial.
The more bold will stretch to challenges - brands that are upsetting the traditional depictions of women in advertising, by subverting the aesthetics and codes that were historically used to market to a female audience. Sport apparel brands are beginning to explore this, using their marketing to challenge portrayals of female strength and ambition - Nike’s recent ‘Dream Crazier’ ad being a great example of this.
All are important steps in the right direction, but I believe they operate within the safe confines of a recognised system - testing and pushing it rather than completely redefining it.
The more progressive leap, then, is Feminist Marketing - a fundamental systemic change in the style of communication. Reassuringly, change is coming from within the industry as we move from driving awareness to real action. Leading the charge in the US is Free The Bid, a non-profit tackling the lack of female voices at the root of the issue, by calling for all agencies and brands to get at least one female director’s bid on every job.
Then you have those brands who go beyond making statements and are actively starting dialogues, using their marketing budgets for provocative campaigns intended to spark debate and discussion. Schweppes did just this in Brazil - where 86% of women say they have been sexually harassed in nightclubs - by creating a sensor-fitted dress that recorded every time the wearer was touched in a nightclub, to highlight the issue of harassment.
Finally, you have brands who do not just challenge gendered aesthetics but completely change them. Bodyform’s ‘Blood Normal” campaign is a good example of this (although it saddens me that this was not made far sooner). As is make-up brand Covergirl’s decision to retire their 20-year-old slogan ‘Easy, Breezy, Beautiful. Covergirl’ in favour of ‘I Am What I Make Up’, a refreshing acknowledgement of how the way consumers use makeup is changing, from conforming to a social ideal to expressing your creativity and individuality.
The female consumer is powerful and she is savvy. To unlock her engagement, brands must acknowledge her nuances. And so this year, I hope that we see less opportunism and more commitment from brands. I hope we see fewer marketeers merely testing the limits of a flawed system of representation, and more who are willing to be truly creative in exploring a new one.
By Olivia Stancombe, Strategist at Forever Beta