How a Brand Can Change the World
This week, Elle Magazine made news for launching a campaign to rebrand feminism. The campaign is scheduled to appear in the glossy's November issue, complete with an 8-page feature. So far, a few ads have hit the web, along with the names of the campaign's creators.
And already, the campaign has been wildly successful, even though it hasn't officially launched yet.
Why? For starters, "rebranding" feminism is pretty controversial. The dreaded F-word will almost always get people chattering--not to mention, the concept of turning a political ideology into a commodified brand is somewhat troubling. After all, how is feminism supposed to challenge and dismantle the patriarchy if it's emblazoned with corporate logos?
That's a great question. Let's explore it, shall we?
For starters, let's not forget that this particular attempt at rebranding feminism isn't really about sparking a revolution. It's about selling more copies of Elle Magazine. Elle paid three top ad agencies a bunch of money to create this campaign, and they expect to get a solid return on their investment.
And they will! All the chatter about this campaign, a full month before it hits newsstands, will generate a ton of sales. Feminists will purchase to support the noble political goal, and anti-feminists will buy to balk at the blasphemy of it all. Either way, November should be a BIG month for Elle.
And that effect will last beyond next month. With this campaign, Elle is making a name for itself as the feminist women's glossy--a reputation that will undoubtedly boost sales for months, or years, to come.
That said, let's talk about how feminism is supposed to survive corporatization.
The thing is, feminism is already a brand. How?
Every idea that wants to cultivate a vast following is a brand. Do you want people to identify as Little Monsters? Smilers? Feminists? Translation: you want to create a brand that people can get behind.
A brand doesn't have to be a corporate logo--although that's what most people think of when they hear the B-word. A brand is just a concept or identity that people recognize instantly and want to participate in, subscribe to, and talk about.
Don't believe me? Think of Kleenex. Are you picturing a logo? Probably not. More likely, you're picturing a box of tissues on your nightstand, ready to comfort you when you've got a nasty cold or a broken heart. Kleenex isn't just associated with tissues--it's associated with the comfort of home. That's a powerful concept, and it's paid off. When was the last time you asked someone to pass you the tissues? Probably never. You asked for the Kleenex instead.
Still don't believe me? Let's look at something a bit less Fortune 500. Remember Obama's 2008 presidential campaign? He wasn't selling anything but a vision of the future. He didn't have a logo or a product--just hope. He sold an idea and an identity, and he did it extremely well. It's not surprising that he won by a landslide.
So what are we talking about when we say we're rebranding feminism? We're not talking about selling it or corporatizing it, or turning into a sad little sponsor for next year's Miss America pageant. (Although all of these things might happen as a result, unfortunately.)
What we're talking about is transforming feminism into something that people don't associate with awful stereotypes like a hairy-legged, man-hating shrew. We're talking about transforming feminism into a concept that's current, sexy, and hopeful. Something that makes people picture a world where women are treated with respect, are paid equally, and have control over their bodies. That's a pretty awesome concept, am I right? Tons of people can hop on that bandwagon.
Unfortunately, that's a tall order. Tons of problems accompany mass appeal. It's almost certain that, in the process of rebranding feminism, it will be presented as hopelessly white, upper-middle class, straight, and normatively feminine. That's a major issue, because feminism is for all people who aren't chauvinist pigs. That includes men, women of color, queer women, masculine-presenting women, poor women, disabled women--the list can go on and on.
These are the people that need feminism the most, and they're the least likely to be represented in a big budget ad campaign. That liability has already reared its ugly head--all of the people who worked on Elle's campaign are white, upper-middle class, straight, normatively feminine women. And since those are the same women who buy Elle Magazine, all of the ads are clearly directed at them.
That's a major problem, and if you want to hear more about why, check out my latest blog post for Femmolitical.
But it's important to note that these problems don't arise from the rebranding itself. After all, that's just the transformation of a lackluster concept or idea into something that inspires people. The rebranding isn't the problem, but the sexist nature of the ad industry, the pretty anti-feminist realities of women's magazines like Elle, and the limitations of socially unaware (or ineffective) copywriters and designers are.
So, how do you go about branding an idea in a way that has mass appeal, is highly effective, and doesn't plunge into the pitfalls of a sexist, racist, socially unconscionable ad industry?
Sign up for my free e-newsletter, and you'll find out.
But in the meantime, remember that "brand" isn't a dirty word. It's just a big idea that gets people really excited. And that can be an awesome, amazing thing, am I right? So let's use our branding efforts for the greater good.