Take a stand: Indesit and Gender Equality

Homepage of http://doittogether.indesit.co.uk/ (for the UK domain)

The italian company Indesit, manufacturing domestic appliances and partly owned by Whirlpool, recently came up with a brilliant campaign entering the list of brands that take a stand.

Called #DoItTogether, the campaign also joins the list of campaigns named with a hashtag! However, what’s unique to this campaign is a perfectly balanced use of the gender stereotypes of a middle-to-high class family probably mirroring its target. Why “perfectly balanced”? I will get there in a second.

Campaign and activation

The campaign is conceived to target Italy, France, UK, and Russia. The video, aiming (and getting close) to viral success, is part of the project Do It Together (http://doittogether.indesit.co.uk/ for its English domain), a hub of videos featuring local ambassadors: Cristina Chiabotto for Italy, Sandrine Quétier for France, Giovanna Fletcher for the UK, and Olga Shelest for Russia.

Each ambassador will take the audience through the episodes of a show where parents of stereotypical families will try to switch gender roles for some time. Episodes will be released later on.

The video: what we see

The main video of the campaign #DoItTogether, Indesit.

The main video, #DoItTogether has been seen 1.423.056 times on Youtube at two weeks from its publication. It features a father whose routine begins at 6 am to prepare breakfast for the family, to wake the kids up, entertain them while the mother reads the newspaper, and iron the clothes while the mother takes the children to school and goes to work.

In the evening, the father returns home (probably after a day of work) with the children, and carries the shopping bags in his hands, ready to start the washing machine, cook the dinner and welcome his wife in a rather predictable honey I’m home scene* typical of the gender-polarized world. Just with inverted poles.

Fortunately, after the dinner and when the kids are asleep, the wife volunteers to take care of the crying baby while the husband, visibly tired after the very long busy day, gets some well deserved rest.

“Would you have reacted in the same way if it had been a woman?”, shows the ad at this point. “In the UK, 66% of housework is still done by women. It’s time to #DoItTogether.”, it states in conclusion.

Femininity and masculinity. Construction of characters.

Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsK_ddq1b7Q

The identity of the two main characters is well built and slightly in line with what already seen in the movie The Kids Are Alright — involving gender stereotypes to construct gendered meanings. In other words, the reason why we all are able to recognise an inversion of wife-husband roles so brightly is that the characters perform stereotypical gender behaviours throughout the whole video.

In my Master’s thesis about heteronormativity in gay couples, I proposed to look at Judit Butler’s concept of gender as performative in opposite terms, which is, performativity as gendered. While on one hand gender is a performative accomplishment, on the other hand the performance is culturally interpreted in association to gender, to the point that it (the performance) becomes signifier of a gender. More or less for the same reasons way Pavlov’s dog associates food to the ring of the bell. Performance is gendered.

Link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsK_ddq1b7Q

Hence, if we search for a father meant as a thematic role (in Greimas’ sense, from Semiotics), we recognise the “fatherhood” in the “empirical” mother, while we recognise the mother (thematic role, “motherhood”) in the “empirical” father. All acts like ironing, preparing the food for the family, doing the shopping and, obviously, starting the washing machine, are performative acts that bear and embody gender traits, and as such are interpreted by audiences through cultural frames that receive them as signifiers of a gender.

The same goes for those performative acts such as going to work, reading the newspaper, having a colder attitude towards the kids (sic!), and returing from work later than the rest of the family, which stereotypically embed the cultural reference to the masculine gender.

“Honey, I’m home” moment* in the campaign.

At the same time, it is interesting to look at how, from a physical perspective, they both maintain highly desirable traits and appearances that probably meet the audience expectations on femininity and masculinity in the western society targeted. He meets the good looking standards of today’s fashion trends, with a well groomed face as an average businessman would like to have it! He enjoys what he does, including playing with the children, and still seems to find time, albeit very little, to exchange some gaze with his wife. She looks healthy and in shape, well dressed, successful in her career. She represents the ideal woman of success that combines family and work even maintaining a great look.

“Perfectly balanced”. A campaign that works.

What I appreciate of #DoItTogether is that none of the two roles is depicted as superior to the other; instead, both parents are represented as capable of the same things, just with the tasks distributed unequally. Which allows the Do It Together call to action. (And hopefully shows that with a participated effort it would be absolutely possible to succeed).

While some might see a risk of lower self recognition in the inverted roles by the audience, the depiction of the two is still inclusive of many other features that men and women aspire to. This makes them two characters of interest that reflect and stimulate spectatorship’s interests and ambition, enhancing self recognition.

Yet, the central character is the man, because he also includes the “motherhood” in which mothers will recognise themselves.

Men who do the laundry

Men about to buy a washing machine will think of Indesit as a brand who supports them in the action of doing the laundry, because Indesit legitimates this action and presents it as virtuous.

If the main target of the campaign is male, the video still gets the attention of those men who regularly use the washing machine. A male user of this appliance will recognise himself in (at least part of) the routine of the male character, empathising with him and establishing a connection with Indesit because it celebrates his actions against gender stereotypical expectations.

Men without wife and kids might be left out, although it would be worth checking how many single men in the targeted markets are potential buyers of such appliances. Should data indicate that the majority of single men rent apartments (rather than being owners), then we may assume that Indesit, selling medium to high end products, does not aim to get singles’ attention as primary target. Buying an Indesit washing machine is not an as frequent event for this segment as it is for the previous or, most of all, for the next.

Women who do the laundry

Women about to buy a washing machine will think of Indesit as a brand that recognises their efforts in the daily routines of housework, and that speaks up to support gender equality in favor of women.

If 66% of families in the UK have umbalanced distribution of housework towards women, this means that women who regularly do the laundry might be the main target of this campaign. They recognise themselves in the brand because it understands their efforts and actively takes a stand to support them, calling for action to do it together and share the housework.

Placing much focus on how tired the man in the video is, and how demanding housework can be, Indesit places its brand in the market as the one that truly understands women, knows how hard the housekeeping work is, and is very aware of how gender equality is needed. This campaign transfers a remarkable reputation to the brand that honors women and, probably, gets their attention under a positive light.

Taking advantage of social issues?

No. It’s not the first time we see this. Ikea has often been pioneer in demanding equal rights for the LGBT community. momondo has built an impressively viral campaign on the importance of travel based on how “equally diverse” we are when we look at our DNA. Starbucks took a stand in the U.S. in regards to the minimum wage raise during the political debate about this matter. We even saw the recent scandal of Pepsi that, while taking a stand on a social issue of primary importance in the current American agenda, missed the real core of that matter and ridiculously failed.

Activism of the brands is not new, yet it is unclear if this means that brands take advantage of social issues. If you look at a brand as a poweful individual, it even makes sense that it does what’s in its power to support a social or political cause, especially when this is the right one to follow. However, this clearly raises doubts on whether this power should go beyond informative solutions, or it should instead translates into real activism towards achievements.