Rebranding Feminism

Elle magazine has approached three advertising agencies – Brave, Mother and Wieden + Kennedy London – and asked them to rebrand feminism. Discuss.

Elle magazine has approached three advertising agencies – Brave, Mother and Wieden + Kennedy London – and asked them to rebrand feminism.

The results of the project will appear in the November issue of the UK edition of Elle as an eight-page feature. To create the work, which was made for free by all agencies involved, Elle teamed the ad agencies with three feminist groups: Mother worked with The Feminist Times (the soon-to-be launched version of classic feminist magazine Spare Rib, edited by Charlotte Raven), Brave with teenage feminist campaigner Jinan Younis, and W+K with the founders of the Vagenda website, Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett. The three groups all created pages to be featured in the magazine.

In assessing the work, I guess the first question that should be asked is whether feminism actually needs rebranding. So many things these days are needlessly rebranded, just for the sake of getting some press attention, yet in the case of feminism the answer is, sadly, a resounding yes. Despite its core principles being about simple equality between men and women – equal political, economic and social rights – over the nearly 80 years since the word was coined, its meaning has warped and shifted so much that it means many different things to different people. If we’re in a position in 2013 where our prime minister still can’t call himself a feminist, the word definitely needs a facelift.

Brave and Jinan Younis’s response to Elle’s brief

It is interesting then that Elle has chosen to do this project now. There has been a resurgence of feminist groups over the last few years, alongside websites such as Everyday Sexism, which highlights the casual sexist remarks and actions that many women experience. The fact that Elle is covering it though suggests a certain tipping point – hardly known as a bastion for political action, the decision to run such a large feature on the subject means that the new feminist movement is finally reaching the mainstream. And, if that is the case, who better to help sharpen up its image than some of the best communication companies the UK has to offer?

Mother and The Feminist Time’s piece focuses on pay

Thankfully, as I have actually written that last sentence down in public, I’m relieved to say that the resulting work for Elle stands up. All too often these kinds of projects will get sidetracked with shock tactics or gimmickry, but here all three agencies have delivered mature, simple responses to the brief, which are all nicely designed too. While the results are not a rebrand in the purest sense of the word, the project is a serious attempt to reposition the debate.

Brave and Jinan Younis have created a handy flowchart that highlights the many thorny issues surrounding the word: the extremity with which some people view it; whether it’s appropriate for men to use; whether you can still be girly and be a feminist. Mother and The Feminist Times meanwhile have honed in simply on the issue of pay, and the fact that, on average, British women earn 15% less than their male counterparts.

Wieden + Kennedy and Vagenda have created a press ad that addresses the many stereotypes that women have to field, cliches that are arguably propogated most by women’s magazines, which of course include Elle. The team also created a tear out page (below) to encourage women to get online and write what defines them as a woman on Twitter, using the hashtag #imawomanand. The examples they give include sentences such as ‘I have a PhD’, ‘I’m in prison’ and ‘I’m single by choice’.

To tie-in with the magazine article, W+K is also creating an interactive window installation that launches next week, while the magazine will be staging an event at the end of October, details of which are still to be confirmed.

On the back of this project, Mother has also launched its own initiaitive entitled Project Bush. It’s a contentious offering, and more in line with the shock tactics that I mentioned earlier. In order to highlight the very real issue of young women feeling obliged to shave their pubic hair to be sexy, the agency has commissioned photographer Alisia Connan to run a ‘bush booth’ at the agency where she will photograph the ‘lady gardens’ of volunteers, with the resulting images displayed, anonymously, in an exhibition at the agency at a later date. Unsurprisingly the project has already prompted a raft of comment on blogs. If you want to take part, email bush@motherlondon.com.

Returning to the Elle work, it is refreshing to see a project that is able to cut through all the controversy that surrounds the word ‘feminism’ and make some clear points. It is a word with a complicated history, but it should be a word for everyone. Perhaps this project will begin to help that happen.

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