For its November Issue, Elle UK decided to “Rebrand Feminism,” treating the advancement of women’s rights like a dated product that needs to be dusted off and made cool again. The magazine paired three award-winning ad agencies—Brave, Mother, and Wieden+Kennedy—with three feminist organizations and had them create a series of advertisements aimed at fixing feminism’s supposed image problem.
“Too many women who believe in equality and choice wouldn't be proud to say 'I'm a feminist,’” Alex Holder, creative director of Mother, tells Co.Design. In the popular imagination, a kind of mythical beast dominates feminism’s image—a hairy, man-hating, bra-burning shrew—which scares people away from the F-word. Charlotte Raven, founding editor of the Feminist Times, wrote, “The puritanical, anti-fun feminist looms large in the media’s consciousness, but not in mine. I’ve never met her, even in the women’s groups I attended in the '80s.”
In their mod-ish neon poster, Mother London and the Feminist Times showcase a single shocking fact: “On average, British women make up to 15% less than their male colleagues. That pay gap is unlikely to close until 2057.” Holder tells Co.Design of the design process, “We wanted to create an ad that made you feel empowered to do something about the pay gap. Thinking about asking someone what they earned made me physically wince. I liked that. It wasn't another statistic to gloss over; I had to think about whether my male colleagues earned more than me. It also gave people a simple action to do.” A protest board inspired the art direction, and the colors are a nod to the spirit of punk rebellion—they exactly mimic those of the Sex Pistols’ "Never Mind the Bollocks" album cover. The message goes interactive in MakeThemPay.co.uk, which estimates how much more or less you make per year than your colleagues of the opposite gender. By leaving out the word “feminist,” the poster is a reminder that whether or not the cause has a fashionable label, its message is still critical.
In a flowchart by Brave and Jinan Younis, all roads lead to the realization that you are, in fact, a feminist, even if you answer “no” to the question “Are you a feminist?” It's a clever rhetorical move that likely leaves those reluctant to accept the F word feeling a bit cornered. Wieden+Kennedy London collaborated with satirical website Vagenda and created the #ImAWomanAnd campaign. A laundry list of sexist slurs and nicknames graces their poster, from “bimbo” to “slut” to "thinking man's crumpet,” headed with a demand to "Sod the Stereotypes" and printed in stereotypically girly pink ink.
The organization UK Feminista was tapped for Elle’s project, but opted out because they didn’t think Feminism needed “rebranding.” Participating organizations, too, were still wary of working with a women’s magazine that tends to airbrush with abandon—would they defang and dilute their cause? Sure enough, Elle vetoed Mother and Feminist Times’ original idea because of its anti-consumerist message, and their second concept, “Proper Cunts”—a photomontage ad featuring a variety of different vaginas, aimed at making the Elle reader think twice before getting a Brazilian wax—was also, unsurprisingly, nixed.
Elle deserves points for effort when compared to many women's magazines, which, in their exclusive focus on beauty and recycled dating tips, are often part of the problem, not the solution. But, as Raven says, “The problem with ‘rebranding feminism’ is that feminism isn’t a brand to begin with. It’s a process rather than an idée fixe. There’s no easy way of capturing that process in an A4 visual advert—believe me, we tried—so any ‘rebrand’ would inevitably have been a compromise.” If feminism were as simple as an old-school sneaker, maybe these flashy ad campaigns could help bring it back into style.