On this day four years ago, the marketing industry was filled with excitement for a new campaign that was launched for International Women’s Day. Titled Fearless Girl, it saw a bronze statue of a young girl quietly installed in front of the famous Charging Bull statue in New York City’s financial district.
The statue was the work of artist Kristen Visbal, who was commissioned by asset management company State Street Global Advisors to create the work, in recognition of its ‘Gender Diversity Index’, which aimed to encourage more diversity in its senior leadership.
Fearless Girl was a bold statement and caused a furore. While many celebrated the power and audacity of it, others were less impressed. First up to complain was the artist behind the bull, Arturo De Modica, who said the new statue was an “advertising trick” that altered the meaning of his artwork. This led to it being moved a month after launch.
Others pointed out, on delving deeper into State Street Global Advisors, that the company hadn’t always been so committed to gender equality. And there were also complaints that the statue represented a girl, not a woman.
Fearless Girl was arguably the zenith in a trend in advertising for brands showing their support for women through empowering ad campaigns and initiatives
But despite all this, the statue undoubtedly had a cultural impact. Tourists to New York City wanted to be photographed by it, and back in adland, the Cannes Lions Festival (among other ad award schemes) wanted to shower it with awards, which it did in the summer of 2017.
Fearless Girl was arguably the zenith in a trend in advertising for brands showing their support for women through empowering ad campaigns and initiatives. Some great ads were made during this period, including Always’ Like A Girl, This Girl Can (which is ongoing) and Libresse’s recent ad campaigns, which include the impressive Viva La Vulva and #wombstories films.
As with any ad trend, there were also plenty of bum notes along the way, as brands tried to get in the game with cringe-inducing efforts. Yet there was clearly a lot of commitment – and money – put into showing that women mattered.
Fast-forward to today, and this year’s IWD is something of a damp squib. Over the past week I’ve been bracing myself for a series of earnest ads about supporting women but, somewhat unexpectedly, they haven’t arrived. Yes, there’s been plenty of tweeting from brands today but beyond that what has come in has felt pretty half-hearted: a nice but unexciting campaign from Spotify, and a frankly weird repurposing of the figures on London traffic crossings from Siemens Mobility seem to be standout moments.
The battle for equality is clearly not over, so where are the brands now? Perhaps, as was feared all along, their commitment to women was only trend deep
I’m not saying there’s not a small amount of relief in this – purposeful advertising can grow tiring when it seems to be all words and no substance, and as the new book Brandsplaining, which we wrote about just last week, makes clear, there’s still some way for many brands to go to reach female consumers in a non-offensive way.
Yet I still feel disappointed. As has been widely reported, the pandemic has been especially difficult for women, who have been most affected by childcare issues and homeschooling, and there are fears that the gender pay gap will widen as a result. The battle for equality is clearly not over, so where are the brands now? Perhaps, as was feared all along, their commitment to women was only trend deep, and has now been superseded by more pressing issues?
Or perhaps they’ve realised that superficial campaigns can only go so far, and that deeper, more systemic change is required, beginning first among the senior leadership at the brands themselves, and then at the creative agencies they work with? One can only hope that this is what is going on behind the scenes, and they’ve all taken a year off from IWD as a result. But I find it hard to believe that if this were the case, there wouldn’t have been a press release about it today. Instead the marketing world is strangely quiet.