Turning Things "Woman" for International Women's Day

I’m not one to pay much attention to the International ____ Day craze that seems to be celebrated almost daily (unless you fill in the blank with something like “taco” or “pancake”, that is). But given the year we’ve had and the work I do, International Women’s Day was on my radar this time around.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2018 was #PressforProgress. The hope was that women and men alike would “motivate and unite friends, colleagues and whole communities to think, act and be gender inclusive.”

When I saw this story about Johnnie Walker changing its logo to depict “Jane Walker”, I thought it was cool — I even recommended it as a #GARead! — but then I starting noticing these gimmicks EVERYWHERE and changed my tune pretty quickly. McDonald’s turned its arches upside down to change the infamous M into a W. Brawny launched a Shero campaign and put a woman (do we call her a lumberjane?) on their packaging. The CT Brewers Guild recycled a 4-year-old photo of a random group of women and touted them as women in the CT brewing scene. And perhaps my very favorite, KFC Malaysia replaced Colonel Sanders with his wife as the face of the company “to honor the day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women by shining a spotlight on her contributions to the success of KFC.”  


Marketing directly to women isn’t new.

Showing them what they want to see or telling them what they want to hear has been an advertising strategy for decades. Case in point, shortly after WWll, the tobacco industry hired a PR firm to figure out a way to get women to smoke. Since it was only acceptable for men to smoke in public, someone had to figure out a way to change that. Enter Sigmund Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who successfully convinced women that smoking signalled equality to men based on the idea that “cigarettes were a symbol of the penis and of male sexual power… Women would smoke because it was then that they’d have their own penises.” So I have to imagine that under the guise of supporting women on their “special day”, the people behind the flipping of the arches thought women would think it was cool and take their families to McDonald’s that day.

Companies, advertising agencies, and PR professionals, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: we’re on to you.

Gimmicks alone are not going to work. It’s about taking real action. Putting Claudia Sanders on a box of chicken isn’t going to make us think you support women all the other days of the year. Something that would? Company leadership.

The Board of Directors of YUM! Brand (parent company of KFC) consists of 11 people: 3 women and 8 men. The Senior Officers and Leadership Team listed on their website has the same make up: 3 women and 8 men. The McDonald’s Board of Directors is made up of 3 women and 9 men, and Georgia Pacific, the company behind Brawny, has a leadership team made up of 3 women and 10 men. Diageo, the makers of Johnnie Walker, have a slightly better board makeup of 4 women and 6 men, but only 6 of the 15 members of their Executive Committee are women.

Diageo is also the parent company of Smirnoff Vodka. Under that brand, together with Spotify, they launched Smirnoff Equalizer, a tool that analyzes users’ listening habits, provides them with a percentage breakdown of the number of men versus women artists they have listened to in the past six months, and then creates an “equalized” playlist tailored just for them. In an effort to celebrate women’s accomplishments as well as empower and inspire others, they introduced Equalizer with a panel comprised of women across different industries who spoke about their personal experiences as women in the workplace. They are actually doing something.

It’s the doing versus the showing that will make a true difference in the lives of women.

It’s the using of a brand to elevate women from the inside out that will demonstrate that your company is committed to making a change. More equal board and leadership representation, appropriate recognition of women’s contributions to an industry, and featuring women on main stages are what #PressforProgress is really about. Next year, leave the arches right side up, the Colonel on the box, and Johnnie Walker on the bottle, and show women that they are worth more to you than an advertising gimmick.