An absolute must-read this week (away from fashion specifically but heavily based around tech and consumer behaviour and therefore highly relevant to anyone in this space), is this view on “mobile 2.0” from Benedict Evans of Andreessen Horowitz. If there are a billion people with high-end smartphones now, what assumptions can we leave behind in terms of what that means, and what does the future look like accordingly? With AR and machine learning, it’s a pretty fascinating one.
Elsewhere, the latest news is of course geared to New York Fashion Week, with everything from Raf Simons’ successful debut for Calvin Klein and ongoing analysis of what exactly a see-now, buy-now model looks for those partaking. There’s also an update on new features from Pinterest and a big push from Instagram for its Live tool during the shows.
Move over John Lewis, Marks & Spencer may just have beaten you to the title of best Christmas campaign in UK retail this year.
“Christmas with Love” is not only a heartwarming festive tale, but a message of female empowerment at a time of political dismay coming out of the recent US elections. In an anti-Trump statement, its heroine is none other than Mrs Claus herself.
A feminist declaration, it sees Oscar-nominated actress Janet McTeer, sneaking off on her own secret mission during Christmas Eve night, while Santa is busy away on his sleigh. Taking several cues from James Bond – snowmobile, underground transport hub, helicopter ride and more – Mrs Claus arrives at the home of a little boy to make his Christmas wish come true.
Unlike her husband, she skips all the difficult bits, like sliding down the chimney, and instead acts the ultimate logical superhero by striding purposefully the front door. It’s bold, modern and completely kickass, which supports much of the sentiment about it across social media.
The three-minute tale was created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, and directed by Tom Hooper, of The King’s Speech, Elizabeth I and Les Miserables fame. It’s an ambitious piece of cinematic storytelling, as others like Burberry have strived for this season.
Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, executive director of customer, marketing and M&S.com, said: “Our ‘Christmas with Love’ campaign is a brand new approach for M&S this year, one that has been created with our customers and for our customers, with their feedback at the heart of our strategy. Our ambition is for M&S’s customers across the nation to experience something special this festive season.”
It launches during a challenging time for the retailer, after it announced the closure of 60 stores and a fall in pretax profit of 88% during the first six months of this financial year. Never before has there been such a need for it to turn to fulfilling what its customers really want.
“Mrs Claus is the result of thousands of conversations that we had with our customers to understand what they want from M&S – which is warmth, empathy and a touch of humour presented in a modern and contemporary way. She epitomises the huge efforts our customers put in to making the festive season special and represents the love and togetherness that customers want to feel and see in abundance at Christmas,” Bousquet-Chavanne added.
The ad has already been watched over 4 million times on YouTube. It is supported online by a wealth of web content and fun social messaging (as per the below) backed by Mrs Claus with the #LoveMrsClaus hashtag. All of them continue in her note of female empowerment, even the replies being sent to individual users commenting on the ad. She will also appear in a spot giving style tips to TV presenter Dawn O’Porter and Christmas decoration suggestions to Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer.
The campaign comes of course hot on the heels of the US election and presumably a hope from the retailer that it would support the country’s first female president from afar had Hillary Clinton won. The #imwithher hashtag surrounding the presidential election is undoubtedly a great fit with this same message.
The concept of feminist marketing has been a big focus from brands across the board in recent years, including from others such as H&M and Netflix this autumn. John Lewis also nodded to the results of the US election, as well as Brexit, with a quote from Craig Inglis, customer director, that read: “2016 has certainly been quite a year, so we hope our advert will make people smile.”
It does that too, but for the women out there, M&S manages to go that one step further and gently remind us that hope is not completely lost, after all.
Female empowerment has been a growing theme within marketing departments over the past couple of years – driven forward by rising political and cultural awareness around gender equality and beyond. Memorable moments from brands including Dove, Pantene, Always and Under Armour have powered a culture of questioning the stereotyping of women, enabling and fuelling the conversation on a global stage.
In early 2016, a US agency called Badger & Winters then introduced a campaign called #womennotobjects, which pushed for the advertising industry itself to stop objectifying women in its messaging – identifying a broad variety of brands who typically do so, including from fashion the likes of Tom Ford, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, American Apparel and Balmain.
“Sex doesn’t sell” was the message from the agency’s co-founder, Madonna Badger, at Cannes Lions this year, backed up by a study showing that the objectification of women impacts every single KPI, to the extent that women today have less interest in wanting any sort of interaction with such brands at all. Another study by The Ohio State University found that “as intensity of sexual ad content increased, memory, attitude, and buying intentions decreased”.
Jim Winters, president of Badger & Winters, added: “There’s always a smarter, more creative way to tell a brand’s message that doesn’t rely on demeaning women, but in fact does the opposite – it emotionally engages women in a respectful way.”
Backing this sentiment further during Cannes Lions came a new pledge from Unilever. Having found that 40% of women do not identify with the women in its ads, it launched an initiative called #unstereotype, which is a global ambition for all of its brands and the industry at large to advance advertising away from stereotypical and outdated portrayals of gender and instead deliver fresh campaigns that are more relevant to today’s consumer.
Let’s not forget that advertising can be a powerful force in leading positive cultural change, with progressive portrayals proven to not only be better for society, but better for brands, Unilever highlighted.
Which leads us to the US election. What could have been a cultural moment pushing forward the potential of the first ever female president in the history of the nation, has become a scandalous depiction of modern society led by an ignorant, narcissistic, not to mention sexist, white man (to use some of the more polite words). In fact, the majority of coverage of late, has indeed been around Republican nominee Donald Trump’s own objectification of women.
From one debate to the next, the entire race has degenerated into a mudslinging contest, rather than one based on policy – which the media has eagerly covered time and again. Hillary Clinton has consequently frequently appeared to be defending herself against Trump and outlining what she’s not, rather than striding out in front of him to argue what she is. The interesting thing surrounding that has been a relative loss of understanding around what Clinton’s merits as an individual and a politician really are.
It’s a familiar adage – a woman in leadership comes across as bossy rather than decisive or powerful as a man would. An article in The Atlantic summarised the amount of public hostility that goes toward overt displays of female ambition as being particularly profound for Clinton (the gender-based paraphernalia at the Republican National Convention especially mindblowing in support of this, with signs reading “Life’s a bitch: Don’t vote for one” for instance).
According to the Public Religion Research Institute, Americans who “completely agree” that society is becoming “too soft and feminine” were more than four times as likely to have a “very unfavorable” view of Clinton as those who “completely disagree”, The Atlantic explains.
Clinton is worth more than just the fact she’s a woman, of course, but this election was always going to be about gender for that very reason. Trump’s undeniable stance actively knocking (not to mention sexually assaulting) the women around him, has only made it more so.
One of the most memorable campaigns from Clinton for the election as a result, shows the negative comments Trump has said about women over the years, reflected through our daughters. Notably, it was targeted at married women (who traditionally would vote Republican) in the suburbs of swing states.
“I wish I didn’t have to say this, but, indeed, dignity and respect for women and girls is also on the ballot this election,” Clinton said at a rally in North Carolina alongside Michelle Obama.
Trump even provided the ultimate feminist moment himself when he called Clinton a “Nasty Woman” during the final debate – in doing so summing up much of the stereotypical view of women in power that’s long been held, and that advertising is finally trying to rebuke. That phrase was then reclaimed and turned into a cry for the future: “Nasty Women Vote” became the tagline.
Just this weekend Beyoncé then took to the stage to support Clinton. “I want my daughter to grow up seeing a woman lead our country,” she said. Most poignantly however, she took a controversial comment made by Clinton in the early 90s and put it on the screen behind her. “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas. But what I decided to do was pursue my profession,” it read. In doing so it was instantly reclaimed as a feminist mantra.
Turn to advertising, and there’s currently a lot of work around this message of female empowerment from numerous global brands once again.
Take H&M as an example. Its latest campaign, She’s a Lady, is a “badass commentary” (as the Huffington Post puts it) on what it really means to be a woman today. It features actress Lauren Hutton through to transgender model Hari Nef, among others, being real and being powerful in their own individual ways – winning in the board room, manspreading on the subway, you name it.
Then you’ve got Georg Jensen (albeit a Danish design house), which recently unveiled a spot called You Can Never Be Too Much You, which similarly shows how capable women are. Starring award winning director Susanne Bier, Motocross rider Behnaz Shafiei, world champion boxer Cecilia Brækhus, award winning comedian Sarah Kendall, and the world’s best female chef Dominique Crenn, it pushes back against the idea that being too loud or strong or provocative are negative traits. Again, they’re not, after all, seen that way for men. Sound like a portrayal of the candidates in question? I’d say so.
Even Netflix recently nodded to powerful women – highlighting its leading actresses in a spot called “She Rules” that aired during the Emmys this year. “Optimistic, fearless, brave, strong and relentless – long may we reign,” the voiceover narrates. A follow-up social spot mimics and counters the sort of elegant behaviours expected from women in society with another series of badass characters.
None of those, even in the storytelling around them, directly acknowledge the woman bidding for the top job in the US, though it could be assumed they relate to it. That’s not an unusual move pre-election of course, with the majority of brands keeping a neutral stance during a race to rather ride the wave of association once the winner is announced (see Obama as a prime example).
The question in this instance, given the potentially historical ground it’s covering, is whether brands may have willingly associated themselves more directly had the contest been a more positive one?
Never before has an election felt quite so divisive and vitriolic. No surprise then brands are opting to play it safe and keep any sort of connection truly at arm’s length.
There have however been endorsements by individual business leaders and a handful of companies. One of the most significant for Clinton came from Vogue magazine. “Vogue has no history of political endorsements. Editors in chief have made their opinions known from time to time, but the magazine has never spoken in an election with a single voice. Given the profound stakes of this one, and the history that stands to be made, we feel that should change,” read its post about it. It referenced her experience in foreign policy and her support of gun control legislation all the way through to LGBTQ rights, immigration reform, women’s rights and health care, as key reasons.
That reference to “the profound stakes of this one” and the “history that stands to be made” were seemingly not just being about a powerful woman running the country, but the need to keep Trump out. “For all the chaos and unpredictability and sometimes appalling spectacle of this election season, the question of which candidate deserves to be president has never been a difficult one,” it added. “Two words give us hope: Madam President. Women won the vote in 1920. It has taken nearly a century to bring us to the brink of a woman leading our country for the first time.” It speaks of Clinton leading an optimistic, forward-looking and modern America.
And therein lies the positivity for Tuesday, November 8. As my friend and start-up founder, Carl Martin, tweeted this weekend: “We talk a lot about the fear of what happens if Trump wins. But man, imagine the monumental positive shift that happens if Clinton [does].”
Indeed, just imagine.
For one thing, that wave of messaging around female empowerment will never have known such a ripe time to be powered forward. It will need to be done well by brands to feel authentic in the noise of what follows, but expect a flurry if it does.
A woman is on the cusp of leading gender equality from the front. Now we just need American women at large to go out, vote and actually get her there. Not just because she’s a woman, but we should certainly be celebrating the fact she is.