International Women’s Day: progress made, lessons learned

Thursday, March 8 was International Women’s Day. For some agencies, it was an opportunity to spread the message reinforcing this year’s theme: #pressforprogress. For others, it was an opportunity to get creative—an approach that engendered mixed success. Pun intended, our apologies.

The shape of good intentions

Mattel, the ninth most valuable toy brand in the world, released Barbie dolls based on women heroes such as Chloe Kim, Amelia Earhart, and Frida Kahlo. The idea was to showcase female role models in order to inspire more girls—an effort that was itself inspired by a poll conducted by Mattel revealing that 81% of 8,000 moms worried about the types of role models to which their daughters were exposed. As always, most of the backlash concerned body type. While Mattel had previously released tall, petite, and curvy versions of their dolls in 2016, the company unfortunately reverted back to their “unnaturally thin” model for the IWD release.

Supersize my wage, please

McDonald’s inverted their world-renowned Golden Arched logo on social media and introduced new packaging, crew uniforms, and bag stuffers at some locations. One franchise even inverted the golden M sign towering over their restaurant into a W. While the intent of the diversity campaign was to honor the extraordinary accomplishments of women, many in the public felt that the move was weak, calling instead for the restaurant to offer their employees a “living wage.”

A scotch-induced misstep         

Jumping on the bandwagon, Johnnie Walker released a limited-edition scotch bottle featuring a female in a top hat instead of its iconic striding man. Originally, the bottle was to be released should Hillary Clinton have won the presidency.  When the company held off until IWD, the move was overwhelmingly regarded as pandering. To counter negative reaction, VP Stephanie Jacoby responded on Twitter and in live appearances. Unfortunately, she only made matters worse by saying scotch was “particularly intimidating to women,” a move that likely alienated females, who constitute 29% of the people who purchase scotch.

Let’s talk shop          

On a positive note, InStyle produced a shopping guide featuring brands that released products specifically for IWD and whose sales would support organizations like the Girl Scouts, Planned Parenthood, Darkness to Light, and Times Up. The list reads more like a who’s-who in fashion and includes Cynthia Rowley, Aly Raisman, and Olivia Von Halle who introduced one of the most unforgettable slogans of the year.

Lessons learned?

In today’s multimedia climate, you can’t simply release a product with a clever slogan then expect a consumer to buy into the idea that your company supports a cause. If you want to tie a product into a social movement, you must have a strong and public history of supporting the cause. Then, if the timing is right and the link is legit, it may help increase your company’s trustworthiness.


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