As a ladyperson working in experience design, I am acutely aware of how few experiences that are supposed to be designed for my kind actually speak to me.
Maybe I’m jaded (OK, definitely), but I also like to think I’m an easy target. I am naturally curious and have a great many interests, yet every live happening that is marketed at me is ultimately some version of the same formula: wellness elixir + retail moment + millennial pink + panel of Impressive Females™ + rosé + swag bag of mass-produced tchotchkes with ‘girl power’ platitudes printed on them. To add insult to injury, it appears many of these happenings get away with charging anywhere from $200-$700 a day, depending on how many Impressive Females™ sit on the stage.
And you know, I get it. Somewhere, some brand strategist is sitting on a massive heap of data that says women love shopping and rosé and açaí bowls, but that’s like saying men love the color blue and sports and chili dogs. If I designed an experience for men with those insights guiding the programming, I’d be fired. Hell, I’d fire myself. The way we still pander to women shows such a lack of imagination, it’s as though the brief is always, "Just hit ‘em with a female CEO and a chardonnay cupcake."
Sure, the flavor of the day is brand statements like Fearless Girl, Throw Like a Girl, and Nike’s recent Dream Crazier, but these campaigns were expressly written to flip the script on gender norms—and always around International Women’s Day. So, where is the brand that is creating a year-round presence that is complex, edgy, multidimensional and smart like all the actual women I know? Who’s rewriting the formula to curate the best of what women are actually doing and loving these days? What might that look like?
Well, to begin with, it might look like a talk with Olivia Colman about female characters in The Favourite, a presentation by the Afghan Girls Robotics Team (now these are some Impressive Females™ I can get down with), a live performance by a female act who can out-cool any dude, like Juliette Lewis or MIA, a Boulevardier bar (yes, women like brown booze) or an absinthe cotton candy stand, a stand up set with Wanda Sykes, a cooking demo with three-Michelin star winner Dominique Crenn, or a Q&A with the women who spoke out about harassment in their varied industries. How about workshops that take on the real things women talk about, like whether or not to freeze your eggs or how to quit your tech job and become an artist, or how to sue U.S. Soccer for pay discrimination or how much less WOC are still being paid than their white counterparts?
Where’s the brand that will inspire women who have opinions, grown up palates, worldly tastes, big brains, unapologetic attitude, and a wicked sense of humor? Where’s the brand willing to depart the familiar lady landscape and strike out into uncharted, even dangerous, territory?
Here’s the thing: before Richard Branson came along, nobody thought humans deserved comfort and enjoyment while traveling by air. The prevailing attitude was, ‘They’ll get what we give them and like it.’ But then Sir Richard trounced them and changed the game forever. Virgin’s attention to creating a better flight experience produced a loyalty money can’t buy. And sadly, no other airline has even come close since, which suggests that it’s back to business as usual and that boardroom logic still dictates that the bottom line can’t support things that make people feel good. When are brands going to realize that investing in people’s experiences is everything?
Well, I’ve got a prediction. The first brand that figures out that women deserve better experiences than what we’re getting won’t just win hearts and minds, they’ll own them.
Jamie Shaw is a creative director at global brand experience agency Cogs & Marvel.