January 25, 2017Should brands have protested with people at the Women’s March?

Millions of people worldwide participated in the anti-Trump march on Saturday – as many as 4.8 million across more than 20 countries, according to current estimates. Madonna was there, Alicia Keys was there, Cher was there. And standing shoulder-to-shoulder with them – at least in spirit – brands also showed solidarity. But what does it mean for a brand to meaningfully participate in an event that, by its very nature, is about physical attendance and a frustration with higher powers?

Lore Oxford

Trump’s election comes at a time when the dialogue around women’s rights is at its loudest. While the Hillary 2016 campaign made US history, celebrities like Emma Watson and Beyoncé have become bona fide representatives of the mainstream feminist movement, while brands from Netflix to M&S have made a point of fighting the good fight for women’s rights.

But feminism today has grown to encompass far more than the gender-binary-based politics at its roots. Instead, the headway feminism has made is fuelling solidarity across all minority groups, fighting to protect equality across the board. And the march mirrored this shift, transcending its label as a Women’s March to become a fight for human rights more broadly – a shared protest against objectionable behaviour in the highest parts of government.

For brands to participate, understanding this attitude was – and is – integral. With emotions running high, simply slapping a ‘feminist’ label on it is not enough. "Every brand is human, and every human is a brand," writes consultant and speaker Chris Malone in his book The Human Brand. As such, people affiliate with brands who share our values, no matter how complex – essentially making them part of our ‘in-group’ – and the march was a space in which brands could demonstrate a genuine understanding of a global mindset rife with frustration and uncertainty, not just regarding women’s rights, but the system as a whole.

While indie brands could be seen pledging their allegiance on platforms like Instagram and Snapchat with real-time documentation direct from the frontline, many bigger brands made bigger gestures. While Burton’s CEO funded employees’ attendance at the march – including flights and accommodation – luxury brands including Elizabeth and James, Mara Hoffman and Rachel Antonoff donated a portion of their sales in support of the march.

But ultimately, it was about putting power into the hands of the people, and brands that mirrored this attitude – rather than using it as a stage for their own gain – best understood this. The past century has seen global shift towards individualism, with the proportion of kids receiving unique names on the up, while almost a third of 14- to 18-year-olds believe they’ll be famous someday. Against this backdrop, it makes sense that arguably the biggest marketing successes from the march were of the signs – touting slogans like ‘Grab ‘em by the patriarchy’ and ‘140 character flaws #trumpocalypse’ – held up by people, not brands.

Lore Oxford is Canvas8's deputy editor. She previously ran her own science and technology publication and was a columnist for Dazed and Confused. When she’s not busy analysing human behaviour, she can be found defending anything from selfie culture to the Kardashians from contemporary culture snobs.

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