On Friday evening, so many of us let out a collective gasp when hearing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s passing. As a marketer across innovation and media, a female and a current law student seeking an advanced law degree in intellectual property, RBG’s passing hit me in a unique way. I see her successes from a legal perspective and I also see her successes from a cultural perspective. In a country when Hollywood status can make you a political leader (Ronald Regan, Sonny Bono, Arnold Schwarzenegger and of course, Donald Trump), it’s rare to have a pop culture icon lauded for her legal work. Perhaps that’s what made the appeal of RBG so infectious. She was a different kind of icon. She was unlike anyone this country had seen before and her position as the “Notorious RBG” was just that.
At first blush, you may think of RBG’s impact as socially focused in the fields of equality and injustice. Which, of course, it was. Who hasn’t seen the meme calling out the right to sign a mortgage without a man, the right to have a bank account without a male co-signer, the right to have a job without being discriminated based on gender and the right for women to be pregnant, have kids and also work—all of which are our reality—thanks to RBG? But her impact reached far more than just the social justice sector. As marketers, we can see her impact woven throughout all we do and how we do it. Her influence on our industry holds great value.
When RBG entered law school in 1956, women made up 3% of the legal profession in the US. As Ginsburg shared in a 2016 opinion piece for The New York Times: “Today about half the nation’s law students and more than one-third of our federal judges are women. … Women hold more than 30 percent of law school deanships in the United States and serve as general counsel to 24 percent of Fortune 500 companies. In my long life, I have seen great changes.”
Taking a page from RBG’s book, how will you apply your creative and strategic marketing powers to represent brand innovation and influence?
At the same time RBG entered law school, the marketing/advertising industry was male dominated a la the Mad Men era. Women’s roles were limited to secretarial support. RBG’s work was dedicated to helping men understand that sexism hurts them too and that “women belong in all places where decisions are being made.” Given that women lead consumer purchasing decisions, having them at the table to develop consumer marketing seems obvious, but prior to RBG, was not the case.
As marketers, we are storytellers and our role is to tell stories that have happened, that are happening, but also tell stories of what can happen. We have the opportunities to craft a future and introduce new concepts, new norms to society. We have a significant role in creating new realities. A social responsibility exists that is not limited just to those that take an oath of office or who have committed their careers to law. As marketers, we also have an opportunity to use our voices for good, for impact, for change. RBG has shown us how one person can make a difference and an enduring societal impact.
Marketing creates culture, culture creates change, change creates new laws, which in turn creates new norms. It wasn’t long ago that marketing and media depicted couples, family and gender roles within a certain mold. Now, we frequently see commercials, ads and shows with interracial and same-sex couples and nonbinary individuals. As marketers, we can—and should—introduce innovation that can break barriers across product, messaging, content and engagement.