Let me tell you a story.
Today, somewhere in the world, there is a little girl of limited means but unlimited potential. Her environment may inspire little optimism and discourage her emerging voice, but smartphone technology and social media platforms offer glimpses to a range of human experience from around the globe, as well as stories and messages from sponsored content partnerships and brands. This instills in her a burgeoning sense of a wider world extending far beyond her present circumstances.
Though the gender and social norms of her environment offer no shortage of naysayers, she perseveres and learns the critical art of self-love. She learns, she grows, she practices self-care and finds her voice. She knows herself, and no matter the roadblock, she charts a committed journey toward a better future and a better world.
Where will her story take her, and how will it end? As marketers, the answers may lie with us more than we will ever know.
As stewards of global brands, storytelling is what we do. As we commemorate International Women’s Day—the second since the emergence of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements—we in the creative and marketing industries must take stock of our responsibility to relate to the stories of women and girls around the world. That means raising our consciousness of when we are standing in the way of progress and whether we are adversaries or allies on this journey toward acceptance and love.
For example, it is somewhat stunning, if not surprising, to see just how our industry sometimes portrays the role of women in advertising. The Female Quotient and Ipsos late last year released a study that found, in essence, women too often are still depicted as arm candy or domestic help. The study was conducted in partnership with the United Nations’ Unstereotype Alliance, whose message is succinct: The problem is not seeing the problem.
Seeing the problems of others requires empathy above all. Our mothers, sisters and daughters are the sums of their unique experiences, and from tragedy to triumph—and sometimes back again—it is incumbent on us to empathize with their experiences with clear eyes and full hearts.
For brands and for our industry at large, the adversity we still have to overcome must be seen not as a barrier but as a test of resilience, a challenge to navigate and learn from on the journey toward becoming who we really are. After all, how would we ever know our true and authentic selves without opposition?
My mother used to tell me that God put a gift in everyone and our job is to find that gift and learn from it. Brands are what they are because people love them, and we must have the empathy necessary to unlock that unconditional love. That is the key to understanding and connecting with a brand’s audience.
“Every one of us deserves acceptance.” To that I would only add that every one of us deserves love, whomever and wherever we may be.
That may be in Kolkata, India, where I myself was born, or in Dallas, Texas, the place I now call home. Between here and there, I have told the stories of many brands in many markets. I have come to love the brands I served, and more critically, have come to love their audiences and their consumers. Above all, I love people.
This is my story, and as a marketer I will continue to tell it in hopes of reaching that girl who today seems to have the deck stacked against her. It is my responsibility to ensure that brands accept and love her, along with the stories of women and girls around the world.
This International Women’s Day, I am thankful for my story and the stories of the millions of consumers I serve. That love makes me optimistic that our industry will continue to work toward progress until the day that women and girls feel accepted and loved wherever and whomever they may be.