1910. The year Clara Zetkin, leader of the ‘women’s office’ for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, floated the notion of a single day every year to push forward women’s rights. In 1911, International Women’s Day saw its first official celebration across Europe. In 1917, International Women’s Day saw one of its most defining years—March 8th, the first day of the Russian Revolution, when tens of thousands of mostly women took to the streets, making forceful demands for change. Later that year, women gained suffrage in Soviet Russia, and March 8th became a national holiday. In 1975, The United Nations began celebrating the day as an official holiday.
Looking back, the roots of International Women’s Day (IWD) are bold and brazen–the women unapologetic, the demands clear and the attitude revolutionary. As International Women’s Day has grown in popularity and celebration, it feels like we’ve become somewhat desensitized to its true significance and the revolutionary attitude which initially prompted the day. While campaigns like Nike’s ‘Dream Crazier’ or L’Oréal Paris’ ‘This is for Men’ raise awareness about the roadblocks en route to equality, the effort is ultimately passive and safe. The world needs brands to further embrace the bold and the brazen, and to shift from dialogue to action.
So, how do we do this? How do brands build experiences to provoke genuine change?
It starts with listening to the needs of people, not target segments or types. The minute gender enters the equation, is the minute unconscious bias kicks in and perception sees women transition from individuals with distinct needs to a homogenous group. We’ve seen this time and time again, with products like Bic For Her and BrewDog’s Pink IPA. More often than not, female-oriented products are either the pink version of their cheaper male counterpart or a marketing stunt based on generalisation. By ignoring gender and focusing on the needs of whomever you are trying to target, innovations and experiences become more useful and impactful. Products don’t need to be labelled “for her” to help a woman.
Take skincare brand, The Ordinary. Enter the store and find yourself amidst white tiled-walls, simple wooden tables and metal shelves adorned with small lab sample-like containers. There is no gendered messaging, no “for him” and “for her” section. Just a needs-based approach to skincare, with a positioning that states “Clinical Formulations with Integrity.”
Nicola Kilner, Co-Founder and Chief Executive of The Ordinary’s parent company, Deciem, explains how clarity and education always lived at the heart of the brand. In an email to The Washington Post, Kilner writes, “Since its conception, [the Ordinary] was never intended to target a specific gender identity in any capacity. The packaging of the line, much like the formulations, was always about being straight to the point and educational.”
At The Ordinary, there is no touting of gender neutrality, nor a splashy campaign on equality. It is through the experience – the laboratory store environment, the ingredient – based packaging, the neutral brand identity, the use of employees as models – that the brand sparks a revolution.
Unlike The Ordinary, when Whitney Wolfe Herd founded Bumble in 2014, she had every intention of changing the system. Tired of old-fashioned power dynamics in dating-apps, Herd created an app where women make the first move. Since launch, Bumble has extended into social networking (Bumble BFF), as well as professional (Bumble Bizz). Across platforms, Bumble reinforces meaningful and healthy connections—be that romantic or platonic, with a vision statement that calls for “a world free of misogyny, where all relationships are equal.”
Similar to The Ordinary, Bumble hardwires equality into the DNA of their product, shifting perspectives and equipping people with the tools to behave differently.
Herd extends the same rebellious attitude to its employees. In 2017, Bumble opened its new headquarters in Austin, Texas, USA. Throughout the office, posters and neon signs champion the Bumble brand, with mantras like “Brains are the new beauty” and “Be the CEO your parents always wanted you to marry”. But beyond beautiful words, Bumble acts. Employee benefits include IUI/IVF/Egg freezing discounts, free breast milk shipments for traveling moms, pregnancy, postpartum, paediatric, and return-to-work support, among others. Herd recognises that to espouse a behavioural change, individuals need to champion that change themselves.
Much like the revolutionists of our past and present, the brands poised to provoke change are those who use intentional, strategic experiences to change people’s perspective on equality, albeit not always intentionally or obviously. Today, bold and brazen doesn’t mean loud campaigns. These campaigns often add to the noise, rather than elevate the changes required to inch closer to equality.
Whether through packaging, store design, user experience, or employee engagement, brands must be thoughtful and intentional to drive real change. As we look to a new decade of brand building and International Women’s Day programming, who will be the next brand to start a revolution?