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Marketing International Women's Day

International Women's Day: the good and the bad from brands and agencies


By The Drum Team, Editorial

March 8, 2019 | 14 min read

Today marks International Women's Day (IWD), a global celebration that – just like any other – marketers cannot resist claiming for themselves.

IWD 2018 saw McDonald's and Brew Dog claim the wooden spoons for their tone deaf activations; both are remaining conspiculously quiet this year. Yet a number of brands are giving them a run for their money with tokenistic, lazy marketing designed almost entirely to jump on a hashtag.

Meanwhile, a number of companies have committed to real investment and are simply choosing 8 March as a start date for long-term campaigns and initiatives designed to give women a leg up in business and beyond. The Drum runs down the best and the worst that we've seen so far.

The Good

Coco de Mer

Lingerie brand Coco de Mer is best known for creating provocative advertising that does not shy away from sex. Now, for IWD, the label is taking its liberated visuals and applying them to the subject of female genital mutilation (FGM).

The company has partnered with the Desert Flower Foundation to create a film that lays down the facts about FGM globally, bringing long-term collaborator Rankin on board to bridge the gap between its sultry past work and the seriousness of its message condemning gendered cutting.

“It was important for us to use the King Protea flower in the film because, in African culture, it stands for change and hope, and that is what our mission is all about," said Lucy Litwack, the chief executive of Coco de Mer. “Visuals are crucial to engage people in any fight and involving Rankin and his team’s creative genius in this project has helped us create the powerful message that we want to spread.”

Together, Coco de Mer and the Desert Flower Foundation aim to collect 10m signatures by the end of 2019 to demand an indefinite end to FGM the world over. Waris Dirie, the charity’s founder, has also been photographed for the brand’s Icons lingerie collection, and a percentage of sales from the range will be donated to the foundation.


Retailer Notonthehighstreet has inked a three-year partnership with The Prince’s Trust to support and raise funds for the charity's Women Supporting Women Initiative

To mark the beginning of the partnership, the marketplace has launched a product range created by female entrepreneurs already selling through the site, with 10% of proceeds made from each product sold going to the charity.

Notonthehighstreet has also launched a mentor programme to support, nurture and inspire up to 60 young females from The Prince’s Trust’s network, offering expert support and advice on everything from product development to sales and marketing.

Dove Ivory Coast

Dove Chocolate

Meanwhile Mars’ Dove Chocolate (better known as Galaxy in the UK) has begun building a brick-and-mortar marketplace for women-led businesses in Gueyo, Ivory Coast. It’s being built in partnership with Care, a charity the brand first partnered with in 2015 in order to improve the lives of its cocoa farmers.

More than 1,000 women, entrepreneurs and local dignitaries turned out for the stone-laying ceremony on Wednesday (6 March). The long-term investment will provide local women with a solid infrastructure in which to grow their enterprises, offering electricity, bathrooms and meeting rooms.

Most importantly it will provide shelter: most female vendors in the area currently operate from outdoor stalls.

The Media Trust

The Media Trust’s annual volunteering event will see more than 150 industry volunteers from a range of advertising, media, digital and PR agencies – as well as tech companies and publishers – come together to share their skills with 30 women’s and girls’ charities.



Wunderman has launched a ‘Fund Female’ initiative to encourage its employees to consciously support female-owned businesses by shopping exclusively at them for a whole week.

It's created a website that includes a map of female-owned businesses in the area close to its offices in Mornington Crescent. However it's also encouraging submissions of any female-led business around the country to help build the map.


“There are more men called Dave on the FTSE 100 than there are women,” said broadcaster Sandi Toksvig at Creative Equals’ recent #CELeaders conference. In protest of this fact, the creative equality organisation is encouraging women to change their first names to ‘Dave’ (on social media, not by deed poll) on IWD.

The campaign, which is the brainchild of Jolly Rebellion founder Cathy Hutton, also hopes to get the hashtag #IAmDave trending to draw attention to gender inequality in the workplace.



Havas has taken over a number of media sites in the US and UK, including New York's Times Square and Westfield London, for a campaign called ‘Impossible to Ignore’ which puts a spotlight on female scientists, inventors, engineers, designers and innovators.

The portraits have been shot pro-bono by photographers Bibi Cornejo Borthwick and Amy Troost.


Lina Franzon and Johanna Johansson have chosen IWD to launch Ad-Women, a global register of female advertising talent. An extension of the Swedish precursor, Kreatörskvinnor, the project has received the financial backing of 20 agencies and 145 individuals.

The team cited the widening gender pay gap at holding companies such as Omnicom and WPP as a reason to tangibly demonstrate the variety of female talent on offer to recruiters.

“Our main goal is to highlight female talent in our industry and provide it with new opportunities,” said Franzon. “While all women in the register aren’t looking for a new placement, their presence might result in a job offer enabling them to put pressure on their employers and renegotiate their salary or position for the better. And one by one they will shrink the depressive pay gap we see today.”


Rapp has invited ten female-run businesses to take part in a series of workshops covering disciplines such as social media, SEO, brand tone of voice, digital presence and UX. Called 'PowerHouse' the initiative has been designed not as a one-off for IWD, but as an event that will be repeatable throughout the year.

Equal Lens

An initiative designed to get more female photographers on projects was launched today, after research found women made up just 25% of the photographers represented by 70 leading commercial photography agents.

It was set up by Haylie Craig, art director at Google Creative Lab; Helen Parker & Tanja Adams, founding partners of Another Production; Jaki Jo, integrated producer at Adam&Eve.DDB; Nici Hofer, art director at Nici+Karin; and Zuleika Sedgley, senior writer at Pentagram.


To address the unconscious biases that men form and act on, and biases that women are not able to break free from, the creative agency released an all-male calendar to mark International Women’s Day 2019.

Some gender stereotypes the agency addressed was The Tissue Treasurer, The Concall Whisperer, The Cake Slinger, The Dongle Wrangler, The Tree Hugger, The H20 Hustler.


The Bad


NBCUniversal owned pay-TV channel E! has rebranded to She! Do you see what they did there?

The channel did commit to a series of week-long stories about the impact different women have made within their communities. Unfortunately, however, this "celebration of strong female figures" smacks slightly of tokenism, given that NBC News is facing a series of sexual harassment accusations, as well as criticism of its use of non-disclosure agreements and forced arbitration in such cases.


A medical technology brand called Lumenis has issued a rage-inducing press release "saluting women" with a campaign titled ‘No more stretch-marks’.

Targeting women conscious of their stretch marks which, as not one, but two, doctors quoted in the release helpfully state "develop...during times of quick growth or weight gain and pregnancy" (AND ARE COMPLETETLY NORMAL), the brand is hosting various events to punt "special promotions to celebrate the occasion of International Women’s Day".



Brawny’s #StrengthHasNoGender campaign has been produced with the best intentions, namely 'celebrating strong and resilient females of all ages who have paved the way for future generations of girls to chase their dreams,’ according to its press release. But the link between absorbent paper towels and the female military personnel featured in its film is murky at best, and the ‘limited edition’ packets featuring three women in place of the regular manly mascot looks like nothing more than a quick PR stunt.

Why not commit to puting women on the packaging all year round?


We’ve established that women have no desire for gendered pens, razors or whisky, yet SodaStream believes the female of the species needs a limited-edition reusable water bottle. The flask, designed especially for International Women’s Day with ‘She’ packaging, hopes to ‘let every woman know they can make a change for the planet just by going reusable’.

Which is fine, except Sodastream is unashamedly turning IWC into a reach opportunity for its social media accounts. The brand is encouraging women to share stories of fellow inspiring women on Instagram, donating a generious $1 to female empowerment organizations and programs for every post correctly tagged with @sodastream and #she. And it’s capping those donations at $10,000.


Lumenis isn't the only brand to think IWD means flogging a product playing on women's insecurities. According to the Telegraph, Assome!, a "body tech brand" is using the day to promote an ultrasonic massager that also combats cellulite – apparently.

It wants "independent women to find happiness in their own skin"... as long as that skin is dimple free, of course.

Ann Summers

Ann Summers

Women’s lingerie and sex toy retailer Ann Summers has taken on a rebrand for one day only, changing the name of two of its flagship stores (Oxford Street and Marble Arch) to ‘Womann Summers’ as well as updating online branding. Although the facades are only being changed in London, Ann Summers said it wants to "inspire the nation to support International Women’s Day".

To its credit, the brand will be running "a calendar of events inspired by female empowerment for colleagues and customers alike to enjoy" throughout 2019, but it hasn't elaborated on what those will look like.

On IWD though, Ann Summers goodie bags featuring a micro-rabbit and lube will be available to the first 100 customers who visit the rebranded stores and post a picture of the name change to their Instagram with the hashtag #WomAnnSummers.

Man, I feel like a Womann (whose social media presence is being co-opted to spread brand messages)!

Simmons Bar

Simmons, the London haunt favored by (few) agencies, is doing a "FREE THE SLIPPERY NIPPLE" promo where #bossladies get a Slippery Nipple shot for just a couple of quid. #empowered, right?

Havas Chicago

How is Havas Chicago honouring its female employees? By eradicating its gender pay gap? By investing in an internal women’s network? No – it’s throwing them a mimosa brunch, because according to a company spokesperson, “mimosa flowers are given to women on IWD as it symbolizes women’s empowerment and independence”. Who knew!

The agency redeems itself somewhat globally with the additional launch of Read About Her, an online and physical zine that will publish stories centering on and promoting women. Let’s hope its content focuses on challenges more pressing than the perfect champagne-to-juice ratio.

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