Tokenism or Equity? Hint: It’s Tokenism










International Women’s Day (IWD) is an admirable concept. But should it also be a brandable moment?

When brands like Brawny Paper Towels produce mini-campaigns like the image above (#strengthhasnogender), it’s tempting to let the feel-good testimonials to women’s abilities wash over you like a soft, cozy, pink blanket (cough…choke…sputter).

But here’s how you know women still don’t “count” for messages that aren’t congruent with shopper, mother, homemaker, heroic multi-tasker….from Marketing Magazine’s descriptions of some of the special IWD campaigns:

“Brawny has swapped out its iconic “Brawny Man” in favour of four successful women, whose images will appear across the brand’s social media channels throughout March in honour of Women’s History Month.”

See what they did there? But if strength has no gender, there’s no reason to “swap” the women’s images out at the end of March.

Because this is how Brawny is usually marketed:











See how our heroine, home from a long day of work (in heels!), gets to come home to chaos and needs a product with a “man’s strength” to clean it up? Even better, the brawny man’s voice in her head taunts her for wanting a dog…because he was “such a cute little thing!” (spoken with a baby-talk voice).

Unless… the errant dog, Jack, symbolically represents all the men in her life who create messes for her to clean up just because they don’t get enough attention. That’s the interpretation I’m going with, anyway.

International Women’s Day can remind us of women’s still-unequal status, give voice to the powerless and provoke real action and change. Or, it can give ad agencies an extra bit of seasonal creative work each year, along with a reason to pull out their thesaurus to find synonyms for “strong” and “empowered.”

Consumers are skeptical about “green washing” (companies that talk about environmental sustainability for marketing spin, but don’t live it); why isn’t brand communications work like this seen as “woman washing”?

(…and please don’t tell me it’s because they’re already the one’s doing the washing…sigh.)



One thought on “Tokenism or Equity? Hint: It’s Tokenism

  1. emilyvwong

    I agree with Dr. Wilner in that this Brawny campaign is an example of “women washing”. Brands need to be very careful on how they go about creating an ad that follows a current trend and also with the words they choose to use. In this example, “swapping” out the Brawny man for a woman creates a lot of controversy, basically stating that the woman is temporary and just for show. They are doing their part in “social responsibility” and allowing a woman to shine for the month of March. The fact that the Brawny woman or campaign of using strong woman for is supposed to last for one month only, shows consumers that this is not the real way the company thinks – we should not be fooled by this. As much as I’d like to say kudos to Brawny for trying, this campaign is more troubling than it is of any help to their brand in my opinion.


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