Tuesday 24 April 2018

John McGee: We need lot more Fearless Girls to make a difference

The Fearless Girl statue faces Wall Street's charging bull in New York (AP/Mark Lennihan)
The Fearless Girl statue faces Wall Street's charging bull in New York (AP/Mark Lennihan)

John McGee

Unless you've taken your summer holidays on a desert island, you will probably know by now that the runaway success at this year's week-long advertising bash that is the Cannes International Festival of Creativity was not an actual ad but a 50-inch bronze statue weighing around 250 pounds.

Located on Wall Street in the heart of Manhattan's blue-blooded and testosterone-fuelled financial district, Fearless Girl, pictured, stands defiantly on front of the iconic Charging Bull statue that has come to symbolise corporate America and the aggressive financial optimism and that goes with it.

Picking up a staggering 18 awards during the week, including four Grand Prix awards and a Titanium on the last day, it is now one of the most successful and widely honoured campaigns in the history of the festival.

Created by the ad agency McCann New York for its client, State Street Global, it was originally intended to promote an index fund which invests in companies that have a higher percentage of women among their senior leadership teams.

Inscribed on the plaque below are the words, "Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference". In this case the word SHE refers to the Nasdaq ticker symbol for the fund but when used as a prescriptive pronoun, it opens up a world of possibilities, interpretations and debate.

It's easy to be cynical about Fearless Girl and what she may or may not stand for. Some of her critics have argued that her statue is nothing more than a cynical exercise by a financial institution in exploiting the diversity debate for its own grubby advantage. Because of all the chatter, State Street has managed to drum up over $7.5m in free advertising along the way.

Creative types, possibly seething with jealousy, have argued that it's not a "big brand idea" and that it was a short-term tactical ploy. Others have argued industry likes to sink its teeth into whatever it can. Others have dismissed it as corporate feminism.

Whatever one's take on Fearless Girl is, she has certainly got people talking about what she may, or may not, stand for. In any marketing play-book, that is known as a good result.

Since Fearless Girl first made her contumacious presence felt on Wall Street back in March, she has become a metaphor for the many issues that prevail in the debate about diversity (and not just in terms of gender) in the workplace. But she is also a powerful example of how marketing can excel when it sets out to tackle important societal issues.

To many people, Fearless Girl is the Latina girl who earns less than the minimum wage in a sweat shop in Texas. She is the African-American stockbroker who is never invited for cocktails with her male colleagues. She is the woman in the accounts department who is afraid to tell her male boss that she needs to go on maternity leave for the second time in five years. She is the colleague we know who has been passed over for promotion because she needs to rush home to her family at 5pm every day.

And, yes, she is my 14-year old daughter who, I hope, will grow up to work in a working environment where diversity, gender or otherwise, is no longer an issue.

But Fearless Girl is not on her own in the marketing world. Indeed, one of the big topics at Cannes this year was diversity and the different things that marketers and agencies are doing to address the problem.

Multinational companies like Unilever and P&G have been doing their best to lead the charge by axing female stereotypes from their advertising campaigns, while at the same time trying to address gender and racial imbalances not just in their marketing teams but across their entire operations.

Speaking at Cannes, P&G's global marketing supremo Marc Pritchard noted that marketers must push harder to advance gender equality both in their creative work and across the industry at large.

One of the most powerful initiatives underway is at Accenture which recently launched its "Inclusion Starts with I," (Google it) campaign that focuses on the importance on diversity in the workplace. But it's more than just a corporate marketing campaign or a heart-tugging CSR initiative because the global consulting firm is actually practising what it preaches, including here in Ireland.

Elsewhere companies like Disney's "Be Amazing" campaign uses the entertainment giant's story-telling credentials to encourage young girls to go forth with courage and conviction and be, well, amazing.

What's interesting in all of this, however, is the role that marketing is playing when it comes to driving the diversity debate. It's not coming from the accounts, procurement or legal departments.

As we all know, marketing can and does influence people's views and beliefs. Truly great marketing, however, can help change their behaviours. We just need a lot more of it.

Sunday Indo Business

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