Brand managers walk a fine line on International Women’s Day

Many are sharing colorful digital banners and inspirational quotes on multiple channels, but some see the marketing messages as inauthentic and ineffective. What were the best tactics?

For International Women’s Day, social media managers had their banners ready.

Many had prepared relevant quotations and historical firsts for a showcase online. Brightly colored banners accompanied black-and-white photos of women breaking the mold.

However, not everyone was buying the messages from businesses and marketers.

Authenticity has become ever more important for brand managers and marketers—and many organizations don’t have a strong background of equality for women. Just this week, Google ended up in hot water over the pay gap between male and female engineers.

One writer for The New York Times had a humorous take on marketing messages for the day:

It’s not just your ovaries that we’re celebrating. We also love your strength — you can do anything! As paper towel makers, we’re outraged that we’ve long used a muscular man to market to women — the main purchasers of our product. For one whole month, we are switching the muscular man in our paper towel commercials to inspiring, equally strong (but still delicate, feminine-looking) women.

We are also pleased to release a special lip kit in the colors of International Women’s Day. At first glance, you might think that purple, white and green are makeup colors appropriate only for Halloween. But with your $39.99 purchase, you will reclaim the term “witch,” which for too long has been used to vilify assertive women. Tag us on social media — #grabyourbroomsticks — and tell your girlfriends how much you love your purchase.

Girls are our future — or at least half of it. In recognition of this, we have commissioned a series of children’s dolls in the likenesses of empowering female leaders. You can collect Amelia Earhart, the famous pilot with the tiny waist, and Frida Kahlo, even though we’re not sure unibrows are a good role model for young girls. For next year’s celebration, we’re already thinking about selling a Georgia O’Keeffe doll. Georgia painted women’s vaginas as flowers, which is pretty much the most International Women’s Day thing ever.

However, many marketers felt they had an authentic message to share. Some tried to show how their organizations elevate women both with their products and in the workplace:

Some shared messaging for Women’s History Month:

Google was particularly aggressive, perhaps to counteract claims that it has largely failed to promote female employees. The company has also faced criticism for allowing its platform to distribute an app that enables Saudi Arabian men to track their wives and daughters.

The tech giant used digital signage, internal stories and international activism to highlight its messages.

Some companies were tried old-school PR tactics, too. Kellogg created a video but used a press release to help promote its online creation. (Thursday was National Cereal Day, by the way.)

In the press release, the company used quotes from its leaders to bolster its offering.

It read, in part:

Kellogg’s global video highlights its continued efforts toward gender equity and features Kellogg employees from around the world striking the #BalanceforBetter pose, demonstrating the desire for a gender-balanced world.

“Celebrating International Women’s Day is an opportunity to recognize our employees’ successes and to continue the discussion on gender equity,” says Kris Bahner, Senior Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs and Global Executive Sponsor of Women of Kellogg. “At Kellogg, we know people are our greatest asset, they drive our Deploy for Growth Strategy and we’ve seen firsthand the business advantages of fostering an inclusive culture and diverse workforce.”

In the communications world, many celebrated their mentors and co-workers with profiles and testimonials.

On the Spin Sucks blog, many highlighted the talented women who make PR a vibrant and exciting industry. Over at The Drum, some asked whether enough was being done to create systemic change in the workplace.

Muck Rack offered a word of caution for marketers and PR pros looking to make a pure publicity splash:

In recent years, International Women’s Day has moved from raising awareness to pushing for real change.

We’re seeing a societal shift as nation after nation makes meaningful strides – whether it’s Iceland making it illegal to pay women less than men, or Berlin being the latest to declare International Women’s Day a public holiday.

And, with more and more believing that brands, not governments, are better able to affect social change, it’s becoming a responsibility for brands to act with a purpose.

In fact, a 2016 study found that 65 percent of consumers believe businesses bear as much responsibility as governments for diving social change, and a 2018 study found that 53 percent of people believe that brands can do more than government to solve social problems.

It’s clear that brands jumping in on social issues isn’t going to be a passing fad. As we approach another International Women’s Day, we’re sure to see many more companies looking to make their mark, and hopefully make a difference. There’s sure to be some IWD brand marketing winners and losers, but we can just hope that the corporate intent will be well placed.

What do you think of this year’s messaging for International Women’s Day, PR Daily readers? Pleas share your favorite messages in the comments.


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