Did brands manage to go beyond tokenism with their work this Women's Day?

Industry watchers opine that most ads, this year as well, lack conviction and sincerity as they are merely lofty pronouncements and big promises

e4m by Misbaah Mansuri
Published: Mar 9, 2021 8:32 AM  | 5 min read
Women's Day Mahindra's ad

This International Women's Day again, a number of brands lined up to jump on the feminist bandwagon. And rightly, many consumers have time and again urged brands to spend more time taking action on issues like the gender pay gap and female representation in retail boardrooms, retailers have continued to launch ranges or marketing campaigns dedicated to IWD. With most advertisers pushing the inclusion cart and consumers already tired of "pinkwashing", the question that remains is did brands manage to go beyond tokenism this year? 

Dr. Sandeep Goyal, Chairman, Mogae Media opines that while some ads stand out, they lack sincerity, and sadly the on-ground delivery falls far far short. “This is an every-year phenomenon. An effort to look good, sound good, say good. Mostly tokenism. Sure every year some ads do stand out ... but they are only meant to win awards, and show the brand in good light. Most lack conviction. There are lofty pronouncements and big promises ... brands want to look ‘woke’,” said Dr. Goyal. 

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day was #ChooseToChallenge, which encourages women to challenge whatever is holding them back.

According to Brand strategist Ambi M G Parameswaran, when the communication is just an ad, it should get called out. “These special days smacks of 'purpose washing' and 'tokenism'. And it should get called out. But if a corporate or a brand has some genuine woman-oriented story to share, this is the right time to do it,” he says. From the work rolled out, Parameswaran likes the Mahindra Tractors campaign. 

“Mahindra has shared a nice film about a girl appearing for a Tractor driving test, and maxing it. I know of several companies who have presented their own 'women stories'. For example, we employ so many women, and that is a rare achievement in the manufacturing sector; we are training so many women to become painters, electricians etc. These are genuine efforts and are not just a clever ad. For example; you claim to be woman oriented, can you tell us how many women are in the upper echelons of your company"... is an easy litmus test,” he remarks.

Raghu Bhat, Founder & Copywriter, Scarecrow M&C Saatchi says, “There is a lot of communication on Women's Day. Standing out is really tough and only when an ad gets extensively shared does it get truly noticed. There seems to be a FOMO factor at play here. As a result, there are ads where there is no connect between the message and the category, let alone the brand. One brand that put out a meaningful ad was PaytM. It was based on truth and explored gender roles in financial planning, which made it relevant. Thankfully, there was no preachy sloganeering. Rather, it made the point in a way where viewers could see and think for themselves.”

Among the ads that resonated well this year is an ad film by pregnancy test kit brand Prega News that encourages people to look beyond reproduction while viewing women. The ad stars actress Mona Singh and has gone viral with over 11 million views on YouTube.

Another one was from Shaadi.com stars real-life mother-daughter duo Supriya and Shriya Supriya Pilgaonkar. In India, the ad claims, 76 per cent of women feel the pressure to say yes to marriage, even when they don't want to.

Meanwhile Paytm conducted a social experiment that caught people’s attention. "On the path to gender equality, financial independence and literacy has been an often overlooked step," says Paytm - and their campaign illustrates why that is true even in this day and age

Samit Sinha, Managing Partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting admits that it is tokenism in the majority of the cases acknowledging International Women’s Day. “I haven’t seen any advertisement or an initiative that I have read about that seems authentic and meaningful. But that could also mean that there probably are some but they haven’t come to my notice. In any case, one encouraging trend that I have witnessed in recent years is that there is now at least an urge on the part of brands to make an effort to acknowledge the day, even if it’s just a token effort. This means that the day is being perceived as important by an increasing number of brands, and that’s not a bad thing,” he says.

Among the ads that tugged right over people’s heartstrings was with over 9 million views, personal care brand Dove's ad calling out unfair beauty standards for women and encouraging people to "look for the beauty, not the flaws!"

Harish Bijoor, Brand Guru & Founder, Harish Bijoor Consults Inc expresses, “The largest number of brands use the day with pure selfish brand intent. In the bargain, the day, its meaning and original intent are dumbed down to the basics.”

Indeed if brands need to come to terms with anything, it is that truth, honesty and authenticity that are crucial to establishing meaningful engagements with consumers.

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