Updated: Dec 4, 2019
Brands have the power to change the world
Throughout the world there is a call for gender equality, women's marches demanding equal rights are multiplying, while human rights bodies are producing data and statistics that certify inequality in all aspects of people's lives. What is the role of brands in this scenario?
In terms of access to opportunities and rights, gender balance is one of the greatest redefinitions that we are experiencing as a global culture, and brands should not be seen as alien to this process of transformation because, reluctant as they are to admit it, they are an important part of the inequality problem. Why are brands part of gender inequality? Because there is a vicious cycle: Culture shapes gender stereotypes, which are patterns of behavior assigned in a standardized manner to genders, and which pose structural inequalities. What brands have done in the last few decades is to take these stereotypes and reproduce them systematically, either directly or indirectly. By doing so, they have helped to legitimize and naturalize them. The fact that brands repeatedly indicate a single way of being a woman or a man, or the fact that they only represent certain tasks (cleanliness, beauty, maternity, for example) exclusively associated with a particular gender, is what makes brands, a sort of accomplice to a patriarchal system from which the world is trying to escape.
Like other cultural devices - such as film or music - brands influence people's lives. They are capable of changing habits and creating new behaviors based on the products and services offered. This massive power of persuasion that brands have, and by extension, the people behind them, is what makes them powerful tools of transformation. Brands have the power to change the world, to bring forward new ideas, and for that, it is essential that they stop showing the world that we have, because we know that it is a very unequal world, and start showing the world that we want, and that we know we can have. Somehow brands could help design a fairer, more egalitarian world, a world where thinking of women as leaders or men as loving fathers is not so weird. As a marketing and branding community we may not be solely responsible for the emergence of gender stereotypes and all existing inequalities, but we are definitely responsible for certain stereotypes remaining so embedded in our culture. When brands do not manage to get away from the basic idea that women should always be in charge of the house, cleaning and care, while men are always the ones who go out to work, do sports and drink beer, this reveals a huge lack of knowledge and an enormous irresponsibility on the part of both female and male professionals in the sector who manage or create this type of brands.
Starting to think of brands as agents of change is the key to change the way we look at the role of branding as a field of practice and of brand strategy as the central focus in defining how a particular brand is positioned in global discussions that are relevant to people. Some brands have already asked this question and have taken their stand in the struggle for equality, a process that is not free of errors, that is dynamic and requires brand managers to be up to the challenge of accompanying, promoting and collaborating with the construction of the world that new generations deserve.
Last year, Interbrand Argentina carried out a research study called Brandaid, partnering with one of the region’s most prestigious business schools and together with a Council made up of local and global CEOs. CEOs kindly made their executive teams available to us, so that we could conduct in-depth interviews with them, and discuss their brands in order to focus on their communication strategies. This research has been so significant that Brandaid has grown from a research project to finally becoming a product. Based on the results obtained, we designed a diagnosis system, consisting of two complementary tools that allow brands to understand where they are positioned in terms of gender perspective –that is, how far they are from being able to become a stereotype-free brand. The Brandaid System is a tool that we make available to brands so that they can better understand their progress in terms of gender perspective and how to start integrating it into their strategy in an organic way, in line with their business goals.
The future of brands is powerful, but it is the people behind them, from the CEO to the creative agency, who have the chance and even more, the responsibility, to use all that power to serve the world we want to live in. Dear friends, it’s time to take action.
By Rocío Restaino
Head of Brand Strategy at Interbrand for the Southern Cone. A graduate in Advertising with postgraduate studies in Social Anthropology, she specializes in helping brands create gender-sensitive communication.