Women in Marketing WNBA Agency Leadership

The power of emotion in purpose marketing: Deloitte, the WNBA and women in leadership

By Beki Winchel, Spiro



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November 17, 2023 | 9 min read

Beki Winchel of experiential agency Spiro looks at how a recent campaign from an unlikely pairing (Deloitte and the WNBA) shows a way forward for talking about diversity in leadership.

A woman's hand on a basketball

What does Deloitte's partnership with the WNBA tell us about women in leadership? / Soragrit Wongsa via Unsplash

Imagine a world where women business leaders were celebrated as much as popular sports stars.

Ryan Reynolds’ agency Maximum Effort brought that vision to life for Deloitte’s partnership with the WNBA, showcasing the power of marketing efforts that bring consumers closer to brands and to each other.

The campaign supports the Deloitte 'women in leadership' initiative and its report that reveals 85% of women who played sports used their developed skills to obtain career success. Four funny and empowering ads feature current and former athletes Theresa Plaisance, Sydney Colson, Diana Taurasi, and Sylvia Fowles. With titles like Front-Row Seats to the C-Suite and The Winning Roster, the commercials blur the lines of leadership admiration and fan fervor.

In Boardroom fantasy draft, Colson defends the chief executive (CEO) on her executive roster: “Like I don’t know [CEO Chloe Thompson] upped revenue by 11%, blocked 15 cyberbreaches and finished 10 digital transformations?”

For The real MVPs of Business, Plaisance, Taurasi & Fowles fangirl and take selfies with women executives on their way to a meeting. Ripping open her sweater to reveal a shirt with [CEO Lucy Carter’s] face, Plaisance screams: “She just looked right at me! I LOVE YOU LUCY! You had such a great Q4!”

When the CEO asks Plaisance where she got the photo, Plaisance excitedly replies: “Your LinkedIn profile.”

The road ahead: Addressing powerful issues, powerfully

The power of these Deloitte & WNBA ads is that they understand that women in leadership isn’t just a “feel good” initiative; they invite viewers to celebrate through emotional messaging.

Diverse leadership impacts the bottom line: research has revealed that companies with more senior-leader gender diversity are more profitable, and organizations touting more women on their boards well outperform the competition.

Women run 10.4% of the companies featured on this year’s Fortune 500 list and on Fortune’s Global 500, 29 female CEOs comprise 5.8% of leadership. Both are record-breaking stats for the feature’s 68-year history.

But there’s room for much improvement: LinkedIn reported that for the Europe, Middle East and Africa and Latin American regions, the number of women leaders is growing by less than 1% a year, and the higher up the career ladder, the bigger the gender disparity. Meanwhile, McKinsey reported that women in US leadership roles have only grown by a few percentage points over the past five years, with only 28% holding C-suite positions (and a mere 6% of those are women of color).

But despite that business case, gender disparity, other DE&I impacts, ESG and sustainability efforts are taking a backseat in budgets and priorities.

Though 43% of brands include sustainability as a KPI in their marketing dashboards, a Kantar report revealed that 90% of marketers say sustainability initiatives have to be more ambitious and 94% say we need to “act more bravely and experiment” to drive transformative change.

Marketing leaders told The CMO Survey that their DE&I spend decreasing by 79% over the past year, dropping to 2.3% in 2023. Less than half think DE&I will be a marketing priority over the next five years, partly due to weak returns. Marketers said their DE&I marketing investments didn’t bring enough stock returns, sales growth, customer acquisition/retention, or employee attraction/retention.

This lack of progress is bringing nearly one in seven advertising professionals to consider leaving the industry.

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Walking the marketing talk (and inviting your customers along)

When it comes to purpose, emotion and involvement matter.

Customer trust and satisfaction are at record-low levels, yet Edelman reports that business remains the most trusted institution. Consumers see business leaders as one of the more unifying forces bringing people together in a climate of growing polarization. Globally, 68% of consumers said that brands celebrating what brings us together can strengthen our social fabric.

This represents a huge opportunity. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of consumers buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values, and more than half want brands to be more engaged on issues like climate change and economic inequality.

Businesses can take part while lowering the brand risks in our turbulent marketplace by leaning into their brand communities and fostering shared identities among customers. That starts with tapping into customers’ beliefs and emotions, just like Deloitte’s spots.

And because consumers trust word of mouth (from local community members, neighbors, and colleagues) more than business, tapping into emotion and fostering brand community creates more impactful marketing that brings greater returns.

Whether it’s celebrating women leaders, making strides in DE&I efforts, or increasing sustainability, marketing becomes even more powerful when it plays to our emotions and invites us to take part in the change.

John Broadway, sustainability marketing specialist for East West Tea Company, argued that "sustainability is a people issue": "Show how sustainability matters to people and let it mean something recognizable to the people who need to recognize it — i.e., everyone. […] We need the urgency wrought from emotional response to galvanize action now."

And sometimes, we need to help audiences celebrate to make that impact.

Women in Marketing WNBA Agency Leadership

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