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#IWD2018 – how inspirational messages and hollow brand gestures don’t cut it anymore

2017 marked a watershed moment for public conversation about women’s issues around the world. The #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements united millions of voices and raised awareness about the obstacles that women face every day. It’s therefore no surprise that on International Women’s Day, Thursday 8th March 2018, many brands wanted to be seen to be ‘doing their bit’ and showing support for the cause.

As last Thursday unfolded, it ranged from “…they didn’t?!” to flat-out cringing, with many brands seeming to miss the point of the day altogether. It appeared that the vast majority were aimlessly jumping on the bandwagon and appearing to take-part with an agenda to sell more products to women, as if it was a run-up to the Super Bowl or a national holiday. This is not too dissimilar to what we’ve seen happen with Pride, where many brands slap the rainbow onto their logo without stopping to question whether it’s appropriate for them to do so, or truly understanding its symbolism.

This year, the brands that cut-through the noise during #IWD were those that had real impact and used their brand clout to #PressForProgress; from giving women a platform to be heard and call for societal change, to challenging preconceived stereotypes. So, without further ado, here is our selection of those brands that got it, those that missed the mark, and what can be learnt from #IWD2018:

Brand campaigns that resonated…

Nike
Doing what Nike does best – using the brand as a platform to amplify the voices of others. Serena Williams’ personal story first, Nike second. This resulted in an empowering and heartfelt message on how there is “no wrong way to be a woman”.

The Body Shop Australia
Using #IWD to shine a light on the incredible work they do all year round to support 125 annual scholarships through the ‘Send Your Daughter To School’ program.

This week our Senior Management team are visiting our long term Community Trade partner Get Paper Industry(GPI) in Nepal. GPI have created their own NGO funded by the income from the sale of their paper products. Pioneering many social projects to benefit the whole community this includes 125 annual scholarships for girls to attend school through the “Send Your Daughter to School” program. When you help educate a girl, the benefits extend far beyond the classroom. The Girls Global Education Fund reports that educating girls helps ensure an education for future generations, raises women’s wages, and these higher wages are often re-invested in their families. #INTERNATIONALWOMENSDAY #TheBodyShopAust #tbsapacdiscovery

A post shared by The Body Shop Australia (@thebodyshopaust) on

Brawny
US paper towel brand Brawny’s #StrengthHasNoGender campaign saw their iconic flannel-clad male mascot replaced with a strong woman, while social media celebrated the accomplishments of four women who embody strength and resilience in male-dominated fields such as construction and fire-fighting.

…and those that didn’t

Barbie
Launching 17 (painfully thin) dolls celebrating real, inspirational “Sheros”. This had the potential to be one of the best, but old habits die-hard.

The Independent has more on the story.

WcDonalds
McDonald’s efforts only drew attention to the company’s lack of living wage, pay inequality and poor career options for workers (both male and female). Oh, and the fact the ‘W’ will be turned back to a ‘M’ for every other day of the year. Yikes! #epicfail.

Read more analysis on the BBC website.

Brewdog
Poking fun at the brands that “shrink-it and pink-it”, it’s a shame that the execution was too subtle and ended up looking like a perfect example of what it was claiming to satirise.

Read more about it on The Drum.

Key learnings for brands

1 .Piggybacking on political events is not the same as national holidays
Getting involved with events such as International Women’s Day and Pride comes with the responsibility of understanding the cultural history of these events. Brands must make sure that their participation is valuable, meaningful and grasps the significance of the cause.

2. It’s not appropriate for every brand to jump on every cause throughout the year
Authenticity is key, and your campaign will resonate if your brand aligns with the values of the cause. However, if you jump on every cause out there, your campaigns will simply feel like empty words.

3. Brands need to be able to walk the walk, not just talk the talk
There is a role that brands can play in raising awareness for causes, but an important question to ask is: what happens after your campaign? Is it just a hollow, fleeting gesture? Or can you make a real, positive impact?

Special thanks to Rosalind Moir (Brand Strategist) and Isobel Herbert (Graduate Trainee), both of whom are based in our London Studio, for sharing their thoughts.

Lead blog post image by Molly Adams.

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