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How Not to Be a Faux Feminist Brand

The Do’s and Dont’s When Developing a Women’s History Month Campaign

Happy Women’s History Month—the month brands and campaigns to spotlight, empower and celebrate women. That is, if it’s done right.

Women’s History Month programs are not easy to develop and activate successfully. Many come off like they’re appropriating the time period, or feel gimmicky and insincere. Some brands overdo it, while others don’t do enough. It’s a risk run any time a brand ties itself to a cause.

But when brands get it just right, it gives you all the feels.

We took a look at some recent brand examples to highlight what to do, or not do, when developing a Women’s History Month campaign:

DO: Walk the walk

In a world of faux feminism, consumers can easily separate a marketing gimmick from real support. And when 78% of women wish brands would stand up for them, WHM is not the time to fake support.

Reflect and ask yourself: What does your brand or company currently do to support women? Do you have women in leadership or behind the scenes making your product?

In 2018, McDonald’s flipped its golden arches upside down from an ‘M’ to ‘W.’ While it meant to honor the women working in their restaurants, it felt gimmicky to many, and received the internet backlash to match. Many questioned why larger initiatives and changes weren’t occurring to support women within the corporation.

McDonald's Flipped Arches

McDonald’s acknowledged that the effort fell flat and worked to get it right the next year. The company flipped the arches again, and this time, also released plans to achieve equal gender balance and diversity at every level in the organization by 2023. Already, 60% of restaurant managers are women.

It’s not enough to just ‘honor’ women. You have to live and prove your values.

DO: Think about how you can inspire action

As one marketing pro put it, “Message without action creates an illusion of progress in our struggle for women’s rights. This type of advertising tricks us into thinking society is more progressive than it truly is.”

Considering that 96% of people feel their own actions, such as donating, can make a difference in the world, you have to ask—how does your campaign inspire people or other brands to get involved? That may mean including a donation component or partnering with a female-centric cause. It’s important to remember, though, just because you add a charitable component doesn’t mean your idea hits the mark.

For IWD 2018, BrewDog launched their Pink IPA, where 20% of proceeds were donated to charities that fight pay inequality. A great effort. But, the launch received several adverse reactions, first, for the pink label was pink (Because women only like pink, right?), and second, it was called “a beer for women” (So, ‘regular’ IPA isn’t for females?).

Unfortunately, the backlash from this campaign muffled the message’s original intent.

DON’T: Stop your efforts after the 30 days

Make every day International Women’s Day. Female celebration, equality and empowerment shouldn’t be reserved for only March.

Think about how your brand or company can drive impact beyond the 30 days. Does your program have a year-long strategy?

Take some inspo from Unsplash Stock Photography’s 2019 campaign. They noticed a disproportionate number of images of men vs. women, contributing to female underrepresentation in media. Knowing that images play a powerful role in the way stereotypes are shaped, they unveiled their “International Women’s Day Project,” encouraging photographers to help fix the male-female ratio. Their focus on equal and authentic representation is still implemented today.

Unsplash IWD Campaign

Ads that celebrate, empower and accurately represent women make a difference. It effects the way women feel about themselves today and the way society progresses.

Even company’s bottom lines are positively affected: Accurate portrayal of women drives purchase intent +26% among all consumers (and +45% among women!).

This month, notice the ads and brand initiatives in full force to support women. How do they stack up? What gave you all the feels? Marketing is a powerful force and we have the opportunity to use it as a force for good and progress. Especially when it carries a sincere message and action along with it.

March 30, 2020