Brands: get off the International Women's Day bandwagon and take it seriously

Last Thursday (8 March) was International Women's Day. But no doubt you knew that, because 2018 was the year that this day became a mainstream event.

To mark International Women’s Day McDonald's flipped its arches, Brewdog released a Pink IPA and KFC honoured the Colonel’s wife Claudia, to name but a few. Even my local independent coffee shop marked the day.

International Women's Day: campaigns and stunts from BA, McDonald's, Marie Claire, Barbie, agencies and more

But is this day best celebrated by opportunistic brands jumping on a pink PR train and pandering to women with a flurry of superficial promotions?

My inbox was full of emails from brands hoping I would celebrate International Women’s Day with my wallet (sorry, my ‘purse’). I especially loved this from Sixt: "Today is International Women’s Day and you know what that means! Treat yourself and the women in your life... Surround yourself with good vibes, funny conversations, and... a BEAUTIFUL car".

If the brands who took part did so as a demonstration of their genuine commitment to equal rights, then fantastic. Perhaps I’ve just been burned by Fearless Girl, which to my dismay turned out to be hollow spin, ultimately leading to State Street paying out $4.5m to their underpaid female workforce.

What I’d love is action behind the activations. Without it, it can feel like shameless opportunism, and in this age of brand purpose and authenticity, that’s not good enough. Women account for an estimated 85 per cent of purchasing decisions - so substance, not tactics, makes commercial sense for brands.

The story I want to read about on International Women’s Day is that we finally have more women leading British brands than men called Dave. I want to hear from brands who are genuinely enabling and empowering the women behind them - from the factory floor to the boardroom.

And it’s not just ‘brands’ jumping on the bandwagon.

In the UK and Ireland, women I know who work for some of the world’s biggest law firms, tech companies and, yes, advertising and PR agencies, were greeted with gimmicks. Glittery make-up bags, flowers, discounts for haircuts & fake tans, and pink pens.

Now, I do love a good discount, but is this really capturing the true spirit of International Women’s Day? Is this good enough from our generation of leaders?

They say it will take 200 years for us to close the pay gap - so we need to demand more, faster. Would it not be better if we invested our time and energy on meaningful action like pay equality, flexible work, paid maternity leave (and paternity leave), mentorship and gender balance in leadership?

International Women’s Day is a serious day – tackling a serious issue. For 2019, let’s all work to take this day seriously. Because when the pay gap is going backwards, not forwards, a free coffee doesn’t seem that good a deal, does it?

Rant over - I’ll just get back into the kitchen where I’ll nibble quietly on my Lady Doritos and sup on my Jane Walker whisky.

Catrióna Campbell is managing partner at Dublin-based agency The Public House

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