Let’s talk about women.
As soon as you read that, what response did you have? What came to mind? Did you immediately replace “women” with another word? Girls? Chicks?
Did you recall a joke? Did you think of your best friend? Think of yourself? Conjure up a hot mental image? Think of your mother? A hot mental image of your mother? (Probably not, but why not?).
Really, what came to mind?
What are the associations you link with women and who’s building that brand? In her book, The Beauty Myth, feminist Naomi Wolf accused “them” of ramping up the beauty industry as a response to second wave feminism. Apparently, women were getting too self-empowered for “their” comfort and “they” needed a way to keep the womens in their place. So, the beauty industry rose to the task of helping every woman realize that although she may not be able to vote, get a graduate degree, and work outside of the home, she still fell short because her lips were too thin, and her eyelashes too short. Real women could finally have it all—provided she was powerful and pretty.
While I’m not sure I can agree that “they” were organized enough to form a secret down-with-women society, it is clear, that women need some rebranding.
Sports Illustrated recently announced that they were going to all-in on their next swimsuit edition and replace some of the photo-shopped super models with Barbie, the queen of plastic herself. They characterize the move as “unapologetic.” Occidental College professor Lisa Wade, feminist and media critic responded with: “Both Barbie and the swimsuit issue have been making women and girls feel inadequate for decades. It’s a perfect partnership.”
In the field of brand strategy, our job is to clarify and harness the things we want people to associate with a brand.
As a brand strategist, feminist, and mother of a little girl, I try to stay up on the critiques of the depictions of women and the attempts to create new associations. Several companies that target women have made a good effort. Dove, for example, has done it with their “Real Beauty” campaign. Getty Images recently presented its “Lean in” collection of women and girls. One of the criteria for the photos was that the (female) subject had to convey a sense of her own agency in the picture—not be a passive prop. And (I think) the photos are gorgeous. Check them out here.
Will they change the associations we have with women? Will male-targeted brands reframe the associations they build around women? And maybe in the next blog post we should talk about men.
Kyndra Wilson, KW Brand Translation
Seasoned Marketing Strategist