International Women’s Day: Marketing or Meaningful?

Believe it or not, I’m a woman who has a problem with International Women’s Day.

I don’t like to, as my kids would say,  “yuck someone’s yum,” so I don’t mention my distaste on the day. Let people celebrate!

Of course I love celebrating women, and supporting women-owned small businesses. It’s not the sentiment of the day I have an issue with.

The problem is, I’m a cynical curmudgeon.

When International Women’s Day comes around each year (it was on Wednesday), I get a little irritated seeing so much of what I call “slacktivism marketing.”

It’s where brands post a quote, or link to a few women-owned brands, and then call it a day. See ya next year!

In my experience, big brands are the worst for this. Small businesses don’t typically fall into this same trap, but there are still pitfalls in posting for IWD. Here’s why:

Small Businesses, Big Impact

We small business owners are much more likely to support other small businesses. More of small businesses than big businesses are women-owned.

This means small businesses are actually DOING something to support women day-in-and-day-out, rather than talking about doing something once a year.

International Hypocrisy Day?

There have been so many hypocritical International Women’s Day campaigns that there are whole listicles about them. My favourite is the IWD 2019 post from German appliance giant Miele. Celebrate women! By getting all dressed up to hang with your besties on a washer? Really? 

The obvious blunders have started to fade over the years, but the hypocrisy hasn’t entirely faded.

I see a lot IWD campaigns from large companies that don’t have comprehensive parental leave programs, ones that include fathers and adoptive parents, which help people of all genders balance home and work demands. Here’s another example. I thought it was pretty bold for my former employer, Bell, to do a feel-good IWD campaign on the heels of firing its lead anchor, Lisa Laflamme, a move she and many others described as ageist and sexist. Not a good look.

It’s About Trust & The Brain

This is the kind of stuff that dissolves your audience’s trust. I’ve written about my work in consumer neuroscience, and this is a finding that emerges again and again. If your words are out of step with your actions, your audience may not even realize it, but they can’t form a trust relationship with you. That makes it nearly impossible to sell to those people.

If you’re, say, a giant, global eCommerce website with basically no competitors, eroding a bit of buyer trust here and there might not be an emergency. Most small businesses aren’t in the same position, which has its benefits but also its drawbacks. One of those drawbacks is we small businesses require ongoing maintenance of our buyers’ trust in order to stay in business.

This is especially true if a marketing campaign seems to be playing on peoples’ emotions. It’s absolutely vital to be authentic in this case. Our brains reject stories our unconscious minds find to be emotionally manipulative. You lose your audience’s trust and their attention, and this makes it insurmountably difficult to connect with your buyers.

Holidays Can Be Polarizing

Also, people have very different perspectives about International Women’s Day, and all holidays really. I talked about this when I wrote about why I don’t do any particular marketing campaigns for the holidays.

Any event that sparks wildly divergent perspectives on whether said event is important or valuable is not a great way to connect with your target audience.

This is because choosing a narrow target audience and speaking directly to them is foundational to effective marketing, and it’s damned hard to do that when the subject is polarizing.

I’m not saying you should never tie your marketing to a holiday or commemorative day. I’m saying there often isn’t a huge upside, and there are several potential downsides.

Bottom line: it’s perfectly okay to let a holiday or commemorative day simply pass you by if you want to.

bridget brown, founder create that copy