Suffering from International Women’s Day branding fatigue

March 6, 2020, 1:39 PM UTC

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Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Elizabeth Warren ends her campaign for president, the Fortune 500 gets another female CEO, and we have IWD branding fatigue. Have a wonderful weekend and International Women’s Day!

– Say no to IWD stunts. Happy International Women’s Day Eve Eve. You’ll be forgiven for not having it marked on your calendars.

Sunday, March 8, is the 45th annual International Women’s Day. The United Nations formalized its observance in 1975. The day is intended to honor women’s achievements worldwide and to recall past protest movements that pushed for women’s working rights and universal suffrage.

In recent years, though, brands have hijacked the occasion, latching onto it as a marketing opportunity as they look to capitalize on the feel-good, girl-power spirit that the day evokes.

And I’ve about had it.

Maybe it’s the timing of this year’s IWD—coming as the world’s most powerful nation decides yet again that a woman can’t be president; as women’s reproductive rights hang in the balance; as leaders continue to ignore gruesome instances of femicide. Regardless, I’m not the only person who feels this way. A new survey from brand agency Berlin Cameron and market research firm Perksy found that 30% of women see brands’ advocacy for women as an excuse to drive sales.

We were already approaching this point of fatigue two years ago, when McDonald’s flipped its golden arches to resemble a W—for women, duh—as a way to mark the day. The burger chain faced backlash for the stunt, but the lesson has not taken hold. This year oil and gas company Shell says it is “becoming She’ll for International Women’s Day,” with a logo at a station in San Dimas, Calif., getting the teeny tiny apostrophe. The campaign is supposed to show that “small gestures can motivate and deliver big messages,” but it feels like a gesture that’s as empty as an upside-down M.

Besides brands’ logo contortions, IWD has in recent years seen the introduction of pink beer, a Claudia Sanders mascot at KFC, “Jane Walker” scotch whisky, and “role model” Barbies with the doll’s trademark physique.

Brands will tell you that their IWD campaigns are intended to celebrate the contributions of women in their workforces and in society at large; of course, they mostly overlook the more radical history of IWD that at times saw female workers take to the streets. Truth is, the goal of any marketing effort is to sell more stuff. And as we consider what women still need on Sunday, it certainly isn’t more stuff—especially stuff that’s specifically aimed at women since those products cost on average 7% more than comparable items for men.

That’s not to say companies should vacate this space entirely; certainly they hold sway, but they should use it to provide or advocate for what women truly need: universal paid leave, uninfringed health care, equal representation in politics, career ladders that don’t systematically marginalize us, tampons that aren’t taxed.

On Sunday, what’s needed is an IWD that isn’t one giant money-grab for women’s wallets—after all, they’re already 13% lighter than they should be.

Claire Zillman

Today’s Broadsheet was produced by Emma Hinchliffe


- Filling the Gap. Old Navy chief executive Sonia Syngal is the new CEO of Old Navy parent Gap Inc. Syngal will assume the job on March 23, two months after Gap pulled the plug on a spin-off of the Old Navy brand that would have seen Syngal become CEO of a stand-alone $8 billion-a-year business. The appointment will make Syngal the 37th female CEO in the Fortune 500, though that total will fall to 35 later in the spring with the previously announced departures of the CEOs of IBM and KeyCorp. Fortune

- Last woman standing. It's official: Sen. Elizabeth Warren is out of the race for president. That leaves a once historically diverse field, including six women, with effectively two white men in their late 70s competing for the nomination. (Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is still technically in the race.) Warren addressed the sexism that played a part in the end of her candidacy in a speech yesterday. "If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner!’” she said. “If you say, ‘No, there was no sexism, about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’” Fortune

- History do-over. Time magazine has named a Person of the Year since 1999, and for 72 years before that it named a Man of the Year. Now, the magazine has rectified that historical imbalance with 100 Women of the Year—one for each year from 1920 to 2020. Click through to see what women would have looked like on these magazine covers throughout history and to learn about influential—and under-appreciated—women of the past century. Time

- Listen up. Today's Fortune 500 Daily podcast features outgoing IBM CEO Ginni Rometty and her best leadership lessons. Fortune

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: DePauw University has appointed Lori White, vice chancellor for student affairs at Washington University in St. Louis, as its 21st president. She'll be the first woman and person of color to lead the university. Sarah Flint has hired Mary Beech,former EVP and CMO at Kate Spade, as CEO.


- Wait for Waitrose. Sharon White has started implementing her turnaround strategy at John Lewis, the U.K. retail giant. With profits down £75 million last year, White has cut bonuses and prepared to potentially eliminate the company's famous "never knowingly undersold" price pledge at stores like Waitrose. Financial Times

- Working mom. Rent the Runway CEO Jennifer Hyman is on the cover of Working Mother magazine, where she talks about her long-term plan to take the clothing rental service public, her desire to have more children (she has a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old) and WeWork (Rent the Runway has a partnership allowing subscribers to drop off returns the beleaguered co-working company's locations). Working Mother

- Bringing it back. The European Union is considering implementing mandatory quotas for women's representation on company boards—a proposal that was first introduced in 2012 but scrapped amid member state objections. Some EU countries have similar requirements on their own, but this would apply to all European-listed companies. Guardian

- One in tenA stunning nine out of 10 people—including women—around the globe are biased against women, according to new research from the UN Development Program. A gender social norm index analyzed people's perspectives on gender in 75 countries. Almost half feel that men are "superior political leaders;" more than 40% believe men are better executives. Guardian


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"I am tired of being the only, the first. I’m working to try to change that." 

-Tonya Hicks, president and CEO of Power Solutions, an electrical contracting firm in Atlanta

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