Branding in the Age of #MeToo

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Branding- the saving grace for marketers all over the world. From giving products a personality and setting their price, brands do everything to make products memorable in the minds of the customers. It shapes an image of the company for customers and clients alike, enabling them to trust or like the product or to turn away from them forever

Brands nowadays play a much more important role. By appealing (or not) to people’s values, brands can make or break a firm. And the world as we know it has become increasingly sensitive.
We live in the time of the #Metoo movement- a hashtag that was born out of females (and males) worldwide who have faced harassment based on their gender. The hashtag has become a propelling force in the world of marketing and a lot depends on how a product is marketed to best appease the ever vocal #Metoo monarchs.

The world has seen a lot of examples of gender discriminatory ads and for decades now. Fairness creams face the brunt of the criticisms but are not even close to the only ones to blame. We see mens’ deodorant advertisements that sexualise women, utensil companies that use only women to market their products, driving in the notion that women are best in the kitchen, and even underwear ads that over sexualise men.

As mentioned previously, these ads and brands have been here for a very long time. But if they were so wrong, why were they not questioned earlier? One reason is the consciousness that grips the world today. When the branding of these products was done, the gender roles designed by society were very clear cut. It is not so anymore. Gender identification has changed. So has the way people think about gender roles. Where fairness and beauty were once considered important steps to success, the parameters in the present have shifted. The measures of beauty have changed as women increasingly feel more comfortable in their own skin. Success is defined more with capabilities, which are not dependent on any particular gender, as opposed to good looks. More and more people are becoming vocal about colourism and challenging the age-old views. Understandably then, brands like Fair and Lovely and other fairness cream brands have had to listen and change the wordings on their ads to advocate for higher gender parity and the current parametrises of beauty while discarding the overused idea that only fair skin is beautiful.

A very potent way of remodelling a brand in these times is to take part in surveys and crunch some big numbers. Target customers are a brand’s best bet. If the firm can understand how these people wish to see their brand, in terms of personality and attributes, half the work is done.

Following a similar stance is Barbie, a doll brand that has, for decades, portrayed women as having the perfect features and figures, feeding little girls a message that outward beauty is quintessential. This stance has made beauty exclusive to only a few girls possessing those attributes as most others simply do not identify. Darker complexions and varying body sizes were left to self-pity parties. Barbie too has had to change itself.

#Metoo has sparked many controversies across the world and many celebrities, politicians and well-known personalities have been called out for their past and present discriminatory and harassing attitudes. As such, many of these celebrities have had to be dropped by brands who had signed them on as their brand ambassadors. Brands knew they would simply have to face public wrath and run the risk of being boycotted if they supported the guilty.

Brands now understand and respect public views and sentiments and most have adapted to the changing values of their customers. They have started creating ads and brands experiences that steer clear of sexual predator presence, presence of abuse, discrimination or misogyny. While personalization and customization is key to winning hearts these days, the underlying notion must be one of positivity, respect and acceptance, whether brands customise or mass produce.

A STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
A bigger challenge for brands is not just to change their message once but to keep adapting to the changing views as they come, and improve their brands to make it more inclusive for all. Brands such as Dove skincare have been successfully doing this for years. They use real women in their ads, with skin that looks natural and complexions that vary. Brands that use plus sized women to model their clothes, jewellery brands that use bald women, and makeup brands that use different skin tones are all examples of progressive and empowering branding. There are visible benefits to branding that ensures non-objectification of women. Not only has it been seen that objectifying a gender hurts their sentiments and alienates customers from the brand, but that positive, non-objectifying branding has actually sold more products off the shelves than stereotypical and degrading branding. Whether customers perceive it or not, they support positive ads subliminally.

NOT MUCH TO CHANGE
Not much really needs to change in practicing positive and non-objectifying ads in the time of the #Metoo movement. All that really needs to come in is sensitivity and inclusiveness for women. For instance, think of a brand for men, that wishes to portray a “real man”. A real man has been portrayed in many positive ways: physical strength, confidence, positive attitude, sensitivity and success have been characteristics attributed to men. Only very tasteless branding has possibly portrayed a combination of cars, women and booze to target men. This is because brands are now becoming more and more aware that a man must be portrayed as a responsible and dependable person so as to garner sales and profits. The same sentiment must be held for women. Women must be seen as more than just an LBD, fair skin and a curvy figure. Body positivity must be allowed to push its way into stereotypes and misogyny must be squeezed out. Where evolved masculinity is easier for brands to grasp, it is the branding for women that must also evolve.

REAL RESEARCH
A very potent way of remodelling a brand in these times is to take part in surveys and crunch some big numbers. Target customers are a brand’s best bet. If the firm can understand how these people wish to see their brand, in terms of personality and attributes, half the work is done. Positive images of masculinity and femininity are already set and evolving in the minds of the customers and they are the ones who can really fill in the blanks for the firms that are struggling to define these gender roles in the most inclusive way. Women, for instance, will tell you that being a “real woman” is more than just good looks, that women can be IT personnel or architects or homemakers- or even all of the above. They can tell a firm that not all women like wearing jewellery, not all are makeup savvy, some are bad cooks and not every woman craves motherhood either. And that yet, they are all, invariably and unapologetically female. Similarly, a man can tell a brand that not every “real man” has an ogle worthy body, or is a CEO of a firm. Some prefer to be stay at home husbands, some prefer to cook, some love the colour pink and some are successful simply because they are sensitive people.

RE-BRANDING FOR A PURPOSE
Rebranding simply because one wants to jump on the bandwagon shows a firm’s real intentions and may or may not work. But repositioning a brand for a greater purpose, for instance social responsibility will create wonders for it. Think, for instance, the power of advertising in a society where domestic abuse is rampant. Media has a big role to play in such regressive societies. Advertising for change can create massive shifts in the way men and people in general think and in ways which do not seem force fed. A purpose like this, along with a brand’s core values can create paradigm shifts in the society by keeping the conversation going. Experts claim that gender roles or what it means to be a man or woman will not necessarily remain the same, even six months from now. It was and is a fluid phenomenon and will continue to be so for a long time. Therefore, looking for fluidity, as opposed to finality is key.

A LEARNING CURVE
Brands not only stand to gain from positive branding but they also stand to learn and improve. Twitter, for example, acknowledged issues with the way women were treated on its site and vowed to change that. They appealed to the public to evaluate whether interactions from then on were healthy or not. Since then, the brand has been making conscious efforts to change itself to match the claims of its brand. The brand has confirmed equal pay for women, and women working for the brand have seen an almost transformative change in the way the company has been dealing with women.

Branding in the time of the #Metoo movement is no joke. With sensitivity radars up and running on high alert and more and more women speaking up about their rights, brands must also be sensitive, courageous and visionary in their marketing efforts towards a wide spectrum of genders and ever fluid gender roles. The efforts must come from being real and being genuine and from an inherent desire to improve their brand and understand their customer base. Because in recent times, force feeding stereotypes has not made money. Sensitivity has.

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