This year at Cannes Lions, UN Women, in partnership with Unilever and industry leaders, including WPP, IPG, Facebook, Google, Mars, Microsoft and J&J, announced the launch of the Unstereotype Alliance – a new global Alliance set to banish stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content.
The alliance launched a campaign on social media with #Unstereotype. Unilever was building on its own unstereotype campaign where they wanted all their brands to move away from stereotypical gender portrayal.
Somehow it seems that the Alliance remains a PR initiative meant for the award shows. Unilever, at least in India, is not doing enough to move away from the gender stereotypes with its communication for either the legacy brands like Dove or even the recent brands like Axe.
We all know Dove released a three-second ad in Facebook where a black woman removes her top to reveal a white woman underneath.
#BoycottDove hashtag appeared in no time. Dove removed the clip and apologised on Twitter, saying that the post had "missed the mark in representing women of colour thoughtfully".
Dove’s widely derided ad tells you the danger the brands face in today’s hyperactive social media world where the lynch mob jumps at the slightest miss from the brand. The ad was posted in the US, but it went viral on WhatsApp in India, and people were quick to dig out the 2011 ad of Dove Visible Care body wash that showed a woman turning from black to white.
What is amazing is that Dove built this equity of an ethical, caring and inclusive brand for over two decades and destroyed it in mere three seconds!
If I pull back a bit, then there is Uber, who took it beyond mere a campaign and had to see the back of its founder. The brand has been hurling from one crisis to another in many markets. It's the lack of corporate ethics and things like London Ban and Mallika Dua’s completely justified attack on the brand that is killing its equity.
A lot of gender stereotypes happen due to unconscious biases that we as humans carry and carry them over to our workplaces. Unconscious biases are prejudices that we have but are unaware of. This impacts our perception of skin colour, gender diversity, age, height, weight, and ethnicity. We see them at play all around us and they do creep into the communication business almost every day.
Consider this: Tall men in business may find an unconscious bias to work in their favour. Fifty-eight per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs are just shy of six feet tall, while only 14.5 per cent of the male population is that same size. Tall men, then, tend to move into leadership positions far more frequently than their more diminutive counterparts. This is a research done by University of North Carolina Kenan-Flagler Business School.
This unconscious bias is how you explain the ads like Dove did and the crisis like Uber is having. The lynch mob at social media is also driven by similar biases, making the life of brands tougher.
Carl’s Jr has used the power of social media interestingly. On October 9, Carl’s Jr. tweeted “No joke, BUY US @Amazon! You like shipping boxes, we like filling them with food. Our logo smiles, your logo smiles!!! #PerfectFit”.
Carl’s Jr. even compared the smile on its logo with the smile on Amazon logo.
Well did Amazon drop in for a meal? This is what the brand said “Alright @Amazon didn’t show up. But we’ve got a plan. We’re just gonna do our presentation on YouTube Live! #AmazonBuyUs”
This might be the first instance of a brand putting itself up for sale to a singular buyer on social media.
Burger King has always mocked McDonald’s in many hilarious ways, making consumers chuckle and head to the brand, Carl’s Jr. has opened up a completely new dimension.
Social Media is where there is a new found action for brands. Pepsi discovered that social media is unforgiving. Dove discovered that a strong brand couldn’t escape unscathed. Uber is not even trying to put its house in order. If the Carl’s Jr. gambit works then where does it go next?
(Naresh Gupta is Managing Partner and CSO of Bang in the Middle.)
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