Rebranding a movement, rebranding feminism…

Rebranding a movement, rebranding feminism…

rebranding a movement, rebranding feminisim

By Joe McKenna

I’ve no idea how the point was reached whereby, on a rainy Sunday afternoon, I was motivated to pick up Elle magazine, however when flicking through the seemingly indistinguishable pages (our mental filters bracket things that we are not familiar with into homogenous categories, in this case ‘fashion stuff’, for easier cognitive processing; we require experience/training in order to properly differentiate between sub-categories of foreign sensory stimuli), my autodrive was abruptly derailed upon the happening of a word, or more specifically a phrase, instantly engaging my consciousness (or ‘system 2’ for the behavioural economics aficionados out there)…

“A new, more inclusive brand of feminism- one that says everyone is welcome”

… My immediate thoughts took the shape of ‘Rebranding feminism? Can a movement even be thought of as a brand? How would one go about rebranding a movement such as this?’ Before my excited mind spiralled into the dreary depths of marketing theory, I felt that a contextualisation exercise might help focus the thoughts:

ELLE Rebranding feminism The latest edition of Elle magazine has attempted to capture the essence (another marketing term heavily associated with ‘brand’) of the so called 4th wave of feminism. This wave was generated off the back of research such as the 2014 Edelman’s womanhood survey that communicates findings along the lines of “1 in 5 women see feminism as a dusty historic movement”, significant anti-feminism happenings such as #imnotafeminist, born from the negative stigma and misconception associated with the word, and Elle’s November 2013 question of whether feminism needed a rebrand, which reached 187 million users on Twitter.

Up until recently this new wave has been naturally picking up power and coherency over the considerable fetch that is social media, seemingly trending out of an increasingly perturbed appreciation of equality and being “imprisoned by gender stereotypes”. Videos such as ‘10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman’ (with over 31 million Youtube views and nearly 120,000 comments), Emma Watson’s UN Gender equality speech, the Fawcett Society’s ‘This is what feminism looks like’, and the HeForShe campaign, have all encouraged much debate.

With the appreciation of the communal need to move further towards gender equality, combined with the perceived need to shake off the emotively heavy dust from feminism’s old shoulder-padded blazer, attempts are now being made to formally centralise the ‘rebranding’ to better align feminism’s brand image with that of the revised and modernised brand identity, a drive with the likes of Elle very much behind the wheel.

So, back to my original questions:

  • Can a movement even be thought of as a brand?
  • How would one go about rebranding a movement such as this?


Can a movement even be thought of as a brand?

Well according to our very own CIM’s definition of brand…

 “The set of physical attributes of a product or service, together with the beliefs and expectations surrounding it - a unique combination which the name or logo of the product or service should evoke in the mind of the audience”

… the answer is, on grounds of ‘feminism’ not being a product (unless you consider its existence a ‘product’ of gender inequality), no.

Should we extend the definition to a more contemporary appreciation of the term however, say for example Robert Bean’s (e.g. BT’s ‘It’s good to talk’, Honda’s ‘Power of Dreams’) “a promise delivered”, be it to the customer, the employee, the shareholder, or, in this case, simply a stakeholder (of which everyone, in this case, would qualify), then yes, a movement very much can be a brand especially considering the vast layering of values and strong sub-conscious resonance associated with a movement such as ‘feminism’.

With that out of the way (although please do feel free to discuss the above point), I’d like to pose the much more challenging of the two questions…


How would one go about rebranding a movement such as this?

Feminism means different things to different people, even different things to similar people, commonly conjuring powerful imagery. With consistent messaging resonating in such polar ways, surely a rebrand of this nature is a MarComms minefield?! Traditionally, in order to selectively position a brand you first have to get to grips with its current location in the mind of the stakeholder, and then plot a course of least resistance to your intended goal with actionable segmentation aiding to ensure maximum return on investment. How does one do this when the canvas to be reworked is already so thick with layer upon layer of such contrasting colours?... A painstaking exercise in accentuating some tones whilst dulling down others?

Just like brands, words carry significant associations. Are the associations with the word ‘feminism’ simply too vast and too deep to ever change? Could Elle shortcut this minefield by simply moving away from the word ‘feminism’ altogether or would our cognitive filters just bracket this new term into the box with which we are already familiar- ‘feminism’? What would it take to shift perceptions at this level? Is it even possible to shift perceptions given the legacy of the ‘feminism brand’?


What are your thoughts?

If you wish to engage in this conversation, please keep to the general subject of ‘rebranding a movement’ (also google the interesting topics of ‘Rebranding European Muslims’ and Milton Glaser’s (‘I Love NY) rebranding of the Climate movement) or the specific subject of ‘rebranding feminism’, as opposed to the highly charged subject of ‘feminism’

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Joe McKennaJoe Mckenna is a forward thinking Marketing sales and business development director of a successful digital enterprise, Managing Director of a developing digital enterprise, and Senior Project Manager of a global Marketing Research and Consultancy firm, Joe regularly engages with clients on subjects such as Management & Leadership, Turn-around and Start-up Strategy, Stakeholder Management, Digital Industry Development, Employee Engagement, Inward Investment and Market Scoping.