Category Archives: For reflection

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.)



Lean In…All the way to the front

Feminist facebook icon

From Adweek, the story of a symbolic tweak by Facebook’s product design manager Caitlin Winner. Apparently, the aptly-named Winner was thinking about the icons used on the FB site to denote friends or groups: they always put a man in front of a woman, so the woman was always in a man’s shadow.

Now, this is the company whose Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote the book Lean In, which encouraged women to lead. And yet, that pesky women-to-the-back-of-the-pack symbol persisted. Until now. (She even fixed the female icon’s helmet hair – brava!)

What do you think – is this a silly little detail, or the kind of subliminal imagery that affects the beliefs both genders have about women?


The Power of Design


Artist Peddy Mergui imagines brands moving into new–and maybe threatening–spaces.


A new post on asks, “What if Nike sold Oranges?” It’s the subject of an Israeli artist’s latest exhibit, a reflection on design’s ability to influence consumption. What do you think – is there a limit to the value a brand brings?