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Why We the People Need the Voice of Commerce Behind Us

By Published on .

Demonstrators attend the Women's March on Washington on January 21 in Washington, D.C.
Demonstrators attend the Women's March on Washington on January 21 in Washington, D.C. Credit: Noam Galai/WireImage

The Women's March on Jan. 21 was a truly historic event, with millions of participants worldwide. Women everywhere took to the streets to give a voice to causes including healthcare access, immigration, climate change, LGBTQIA rights and Black Lives Matter (that's not all, but you get the point). All of these topics were bundled within the framework of intersectional feminism and concerns about the Trump administration's stance on these matters.

As I marched along with my fellow females (and supportive males) declaring: "This is what democracy looks like!" I felt a solidarity with the surge of people, an assurance that we were on the right side of history. But the March has passed. And even though many of us plan to remain active for our causes, I sit here at my day job wondering, what does this mean for my clients?

I began to think about the insanely effective visual mnemonic of the pink pussy hats and about how perhaps we can begin building up brands based on their widest common appeal, on insights that are derived not from "Female 18-34, HHI $75k+," but from a moment in time. What a powerful thing to have a brand hook into that cultural zeitgeist to provide something or stand for something that maybe can mean a little bit of something great to everybody. Or almost everybody. The holy grail of advertising.

Then I thought about brands that have already done that, brilliantly. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty is the gold standard and evidence of Always' Like a Girl was evident in the number of "March Like a Girl" signs in the streets the day after the inauguration. These brands (and their agency partners) saw an opportunity to lift up women with empowering messages that hit on deep-seated and uncomfortable truths. They saw alignment with their target audience and they went for it, helping change the conversation for generations of women and girls. It was not a partisan issue; it was a human truth no matter what side of the aisle you are on.

It's far too early to know what kind of impact the Women's March will have. My personal hope is that it continues to drive conversation and progress toward true equality for many groups of people. My fear is that brands may now hesitate to dive in and take a stand in the same way Dove and Always did, for fear of appearing political, of being on the side of dissenters and therefore against our new administration.

But, please don't do that. Do not be wary. The issues at hand are not political ones. They are human concerns: cultural and ethical. Now more than ever, we the people need the voice of commerce behind us. We need good brands with the strength of their reach and the power of their dollar to recognize the imbalances that exist in our society and say unequivocally that equal rights matter.

Because brand voices and campaigns can and do shape culture. They can and do have a place in helping to shape history for the better. In crafting a world where inclusion and equality are paramount.

The ways in which you can help are varied. If your brand is up to the task of uncovering one of those nasty, uncomfortable truths and has a genuine alignment with that message, go for it. But even smaller moves matter, the micro-moves that can help our nation see itself for what it is through our casting choices, through the inclusion in our commercials of multiracial people and couples, of models with albinism or vitiligo, of people with disabilities, you get the idea. Because our commercials are made to reflect an aspiration of our society and communities. It is our many variations of color, sexuality and religions that makes us a great country.

So, to all the brands out there making amazing, brave work and choices, I thank you and say, keep it up. The big brands like Dove, Always, Cheerios, Campbell's, Tylenol and smaller brands like Ellevest and Thinx, you've made an impact on mass and niche markets through your casting choices, your messages and your ad dollars. That difference resonates and matters. Let's keep it up.

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