Reimagining authenticity in brand
I remember vividly moving through crowds making my way to Wall Street on a cold spring morning. I navigated through a maze of people to see the art installation I had heard so much about. There she stood, three feet in bronze. A statue of a small child standing in the face of capitalism and the patriarchy, just in time for International Women’s Day.
I looked on as little girls crowded around taking photos with the Fearless Girl. Girl Scout troops clambered to become memorialized next to such a juxtaposition. Did she stand for strength, for courage, or for equality? It gave me the sense that things were moving forward, that women were both seen and heard, and that now more than ever, women would not stand down. Even if we were small and even if we portrayed to the world as children.
It wasn’t until later that it was brought to my attention that the Fearless Girl was an installation created by McCann New York, on behalf of State Street , an institution that according to the New York Times is being “sued for discrimination against its top 305 female employees by paying less in the same position.” (i)
The company in question had voted down equal pay for women multiple times and had now gained millions of dollars worth of recognition for its work on the Fearless Girl. As a creative, a brand strategist and person with common sense, I understand that institutions want to portray an image of inclusivity, and that they will go to great lengths to buy that image at whatever cost. However, we must consider the cost to the people they’re appropriating.
Women are the world’s most powerful consumer base. We drive around 80% of all buying decisions. We cannot let that power be used against us. (ii)
Now more than ever, companies are awakening to the economic opportunity that women represent. They want to reach with us, but there is a fundamental disconnect. Men are leading these campaigns while simultaneously voting down our equal pay and then marketing us as children standing against a greater force. Our male dominated political system has made rape a preexisting condition, female birth control a privilege, and equal pay a “conversation” to be had in court.
Feminism is not their commodity to market. Inauthenticity such as this, is a gross misuse of power and we see through it.
The question I pose on behalf of fearless girls, boys, women and men, is this: who is responsible?
- The advertisings industry at large: at the Cannes Lions festival alone, Fearless Girl won three Grand Prix awards. Will they be taken away? Not unless this industry has a wake up call. We need higher standards and that starts from the inside out.
- The new generation of brands: we live in the age of transparency, you cannot create a false message and expect for it to stand untouched. Rethink your approach and change your actions to match the message you hope to create.
- Consumers: Vote with dollars. Let your voice be heard. Now more than ever, educate yourself on the brands you chose to support institutions that create true equality.
To misrepresent the intentions and values of a movement on behalf of a brand is an abuse of the power of creativity. The advertising industry needs to undergo a revolution, an overhaul of creative energies dedicated to making companies better, not just bigger.
i. Matt Stevens, Firm Behind ‘Fearless Girl’ Statue Underpaid Women, U.S. Say(New York Times, 2017)
ii. Bridget Brennan, Top Ten things everyone should know about women consumers (Forbes, 2015)