Authenticity, credibility and experiential on IWD 2019

by Natalia Riley

8th March 2019

International Women’s Day (IWD) represents the perfect opportunity for marketers to demonstrate how their business is championing the female voice. As Susie Dullard discusses in our post on the evolution of a conscious company, the discourse on what role businesses should take in tackling societal challenges like the gender pay gap is changing. Today, aligning a business with social values is essential to gain the trust of consumers who believe businesses should do more to improve society.

This is perhaps why PR campaigns launched to coincide with IWD this year have taken a more considered approach to championing women’s rights. Instead of headline grabbing stunts, brands have partnered with established female empowerment organisations in order to launch credible activations.

Pursuing authenticity

For example, Bacardi teamed up with leadership, education and training company SHE Global for the Spirit Forward SHE summit. The event, which took place a week before IWD, was designed to help women realise that they don’t need to be in charge in order to lead. Partnering with a campaign group that has a legitimate stake in IWD signals to consumers that Bacardi is an authentic champion of women’s rights—especially when collaborating on an experiential activation.

Legitimacy matters. A whopping 90% of millennials state that authenticity is important when deciding which brands to support, so should be front of mind when communicating social values.

Emphasising that experiential is king (or rather, queen) for IWD this year, The Body Shop is also running its own two-day event, Celebrate She. Consumers will be able to test out The Body Shop’s products whilst attending inspirational talks on topics ranging from body confidence to careers.  The event allows The Body Shop to align its products with women’s rights in a sensitive way by creating a forum for women to share advice.

“Femvertising” falters

Brand approaches to IWD haven’t always been this well considered.

McDonalds’ simple idea of turning its iconic golden arches upside down in California, in order to honour the “extraordinary accomplishments of women everywhere and especially in our restaurants” backfired spectacularly in 2018.

Critics were quick to point out not only that reversing the arches back to their normal “M” would mean celebrating men every other day of the year, but also the hypocrisy of McDonalds honouring female workers who don’t receive a living wage or paid maternity leave.

In the UK, Brewdog’s Pink IPA, “Beer for girls” suffered similar backlash. Whilst the beer was sold at a fifth of the usual price to raise awareness of the gender pay gap, many critics saw through the activation and labelled it as little more than a cynical marketing campaign.

This kind of public relations misstep has been characterised by campaigners and industry experts alike as “Femvertising”—where Feminism is exploited by marketers when it’s most convenient to them. This in turn ignores the underlying gender inequalities which consumers are becoming more aware of and passionate about. And, most importantly, the purpose of International Women’s Day.

Really, what it comes down to is brands championing their own authenticity and credibility in any campaign that tackle social issues. For women’s rights, that means celebrating women on every day of the year.