We’ve been moving on our How To Speak (Wo)Man work recently, with Crowd DNA’s Elyse Pigram and Joey Zeelen sharing it with clients. One of the key themes: whether we should even be talking about binary expressions of gender in the first place…

This is not the first time we’ve talked about how brands can address gender (in fact, we’re doing it again soon in Singapore), but we’re finding good sense in combining both of our presentations on the topic to deliver a holistic view on ensuring brand messaging rings true. 

First, Elyse has been looking at femininity today, exploring why it is that women still don’t feel represented by brands. This part of the presentation uses a simple Jungian framework of female archetypes traditionally perpetuated in media and culture, of ‘the innocent’, ‘lover’ and ‘caregiver’. The examples from brands of childlike playfulness, domesticated housewives, and barely-dressed women provide evidence of how not to speak to today’s woman.

Moving into the present, Elyse shows that there’s no longer just one archetype – or stereotype-fits-all. Women are seeking to reclaim their identity, in all its varying forms, which means reframing and rethinking the way womanhood is represented to make it more diverse, inclusive and strong. Women as the ‘everywoman’ (think Dove’s Real Beauty, HBO’s Girls), ‘heroes’ (think Always’ Like A Girl, Beyonce, the latest Wonder Woman films), ‘rebels’ and ‘creators’ are the key archetypes to focus on and offer brands direction on how to be relevant and representational.

This shift in female narratives has been boosted by cultural movements such as #MeToo, better trans visibility and open discussion changing the conversation around what it means to be a woman in 2019. Now more than ever, there is a sense of urgency for brands to get it right in the ways they express themselves to the modern woman. Elyse emphasised that this succeeds through brands sharing the fluid and varied experiences of women. (You can download our How To Speak Woman report here.)

Having established that approaches to female identity are changing across society, media and advertising, Joey then looks at how the land lies for masculinity – what does it mean to be a man in 2019? Over the last couple of years, a lot has changed (you can take a look at our 2017 research here to see how things have moved on). Gender is becoming more fluid and non-binary, and masculinity more individual.

We see men speaking more freely about their feelings (Prince Harry tackling mental health), and turning their backs on traditional ideas of what it is to be a man. Mainstream media – such as Beautiful Boy and McCain’s We Are Family ads – has been disrupting ideas of nuclear families and father roles have been represented to be more playful and emotional. But amidst all this, there is still a long way to go. With much talk swirling around of ‘masculinity in crisis’,  Joey identifies three main tensions that need to be addressed by brands:

1. Toxic masculinitystill being peddled by cultural figures such as Donald Trump and Piers Morgan

2. Wellbeing and mental health – male suicide remains the biggest killer of young men in many Western societies

3. How to align feminism and progress masculinity – how can men be authentically supportive and work out their place in propelling the cause forward?

While we’re still figuring out the definition of being a man, brands need to keep opening up the conversation and (as with femininity) challenging stereotypes.

To finish, Joey and Elyse summed up the key takeouts for brands and what this all means for how to speak (wo)man:

– We need to recognise that femininity is all about individuality and celebrating difference

– We need to keep working to define and shape new expressions of masculinity that are nuanced and empathetic – and not binary

– Brands need to walk the talk, and back up their messaging with credible action

– Let’s celebrate and harness male goodwill towards female progress

– Consider producing products that don’t have a  gender – try talking to men and women as one

– Take male relationships out of the locker room, and nurture closer connection

– Talk to your audience, not about them. By engaging people with different experiences, and expressions of gender, we can better express and represent them

If you would like us to come and talk to your company about expressions of gender in modern day culture, please email us at hello@crowdDNA.com

We're excited to be bringing our How To Speak Woman work to Singapore on March 7...

How To Speak Woman: The Asia Edition

Date: March 7

Time: 9am-11am

Location: The Great Room, 3 Temasek Avenue, Level 17 & 18, Centennial Tower, Singapore

Hosted by the lovely folk at 72andSunny, our How To Speak Woman work touches down in Singapore on March 7, for a special Asia edition.

Presented by Crowd DNA Singapore managing director, Emma Gage, we’ll be exploring how the female experience is at the eye of change in Asia, as women take charge of the conversation and start to redefine the way they look, the way they behave and the things they can be and can achieve.

But in a region where strict definitions of womanhood and femininity are engrained and change has come suddenly, the tensions are clear. So who exactly is the modern woman across the region? What does she want from change? What are the things holding her back? How should brands and business be representing her evolution?

Join us on the day before International Women’s Day for smart thinking (oh yes, and great snacks). If you’d like to attend, please contact HowTo@crowdDNA.com. And feel free to pass this invite on to colleagues.

Rise: How To Speak Woman

We need to stop talking about women, and start talking to them. Our next Rise breakfast session in London sees Crowd DNA’s Elyse Pigram and Roberta Graham explain how, as they set about future-proofing the female position...

Date: November 1

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, 5 Lux Building, 2-4 Hoxton Square, London, N1 6NU

They say we’re in the era of women. That true, diverse representations of womanhood are finally shining through in brands and culture. This is due, in part, to women taking charge of the conversation – and business – surrounding femininity, gender roles and the female body; as well as huge cultural shifts, such as the #metoo movement and strength of mainstream feminism.

But what’s more: we’re welcoming in a new generation, with new rules. 80 percent of Gen Z women in the UK feel 100 percent female, and 39 percent would consider wearing clothes marketed to the opposite gender. These are the women revolutionising workspaces and sectors; transforming communities and businesses; starting families while inventing new ways of living – all with completely different expectations and priorities.

So as more expressions evolve and scripts of ‘womanhood’ are constantly rewritten, how can we keep up?

This session explores the past, present and future of female representation. Using this trajectory, we’ll ask how the female position can flex to be more open and off-script. In particular, we’ll explore what this means for brands looking to future-proof and remain culturally relevant to their female audience; many brands are still struggling to pitch the conversation right. And should we even be targeting women and men in a binary way at all? By looking at leading categories – such as personal care, sport, inclusive cosmetics and fashion – we’ll help brands harness new opportunities, while avoiding the slippery slope of superficial tokenism.

Join us in the Lux Building for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Pauline Rault to come along – and pass this invite on to colleagues of any gender.

Watch the trailer below:

As legislation relaxes, perceptions of marijuana are changing. Crowd DNA’s Eden Lauffer explores how women are leading the cannabis rebrand...

We all know the pothead stereotype: it’s the Dazed And Confused crew or films of Seth Rogen. However, with cannabis now legal in Canada and nine US states, that image is shifting. In fact, a recent poll found that 61 per cent of Americans feel cannabis should be legalized, a number that’s grown 49 per cent since 1969. So what does the future of cannabis look like and who’s driving the rebrand?

Female celebrities push for normalcy

A recent survey found that 56 per cent of Americans find that ‘smoking weed is socially acceptable’. In efforts to push this further, some celebrities have stepped up. However, widespread acceptance won’t come from brands led by the likes of Snoop Dogg and Willie Nelson; celebrities who don’t fit the stoner stereotype also need to get involved. Coming out with Whoopi & Maya and advocating for cannabis relief during menstrual cramps, Whoopi Goldberg has helped bring normalcy to the market and destigmatize usage. Similarly, Melissa Etheridge is working on Etheridge Farms in hopes of offering products such as arthritis balm to a wider audience.

Women and moms enter the market

It’s not just celebrities starting brands. Take Miss Grass, a shop and blog for women, which has a cannabis focus but also provides typical women’s magazine topics, like fitness tips. In an interview with W, Miss Grass co-creator, Anna Duckworth, spoke of their mission to dissolve the stoner stereotype, which lacks a female narrative. Duckworth’s counterpart, Kate Miller told W, “There’s a lot of ways of using cannabis, and many don’t even get you high,” in reference to their products like CBD lube and lotion. Women report using cannabis for menopause and menstruation, but also to relax and enhance sex.

According to a BDS Analytics study, of the 49 per cent of women who use cannabis as medicine, 54 per cent report they are mothers with children under 18 in the home. Publications like Splimm and The Cannavist Mom stand with moms, serving as a newsletter for parents who indulge in cannabis, offering articles as well as a safe space. Mom-friendly products have landed in the market too. Mother & Clone, a CBD spray that lasts only 60 seconds, was created by a mother dealing with postpartum depression. Similarly, TONIC was started by a female personal trainer who struggled with anxiety and found benefits in CBD (as it lacks THC, the psychoactive ingredients of cannabis).

Beyond female friendly products and publications, women are taking the business side of cannabis by storm, too. Already recognizing the buying power and influence women have had, organizations like Women Grow, the largest network of cannabis professionals, are empowering female leaders to strive in the cannabis market in hopes of starting more women-led companies.

This is clearly a space to watch. According to Forbes, by 2021 the cannabis industry is set to grow 150 per cent. That, paired with the 70 to 80 per cent spending power women hold in the US, means that female cannabis users are a group to focus on. As legalization sweeps the US and cannabis continues to enter the beauty and wellness space, brands preparing to tap into the market shouldn’t neglect the huge share of voice women hold.

Let’s Dance

Brands such as Nike, H&M and Apple are tapping into interpretive dance styles to reflect joy in the moment rather than striving for goals. Crowd DNA semiotics expert Roberta Graham explores...

Interpretive dance is nothing new. But what was once seen as an elitist art form and joked about in popular culture is now strongly resonating with people and brands. Sure, we all like to dance, but we’re talking about more than a drunken flail on a Saturday night. Recent portrayals of dance feel much more empowering, liberating and revolutionary than ever before.

The influence of artists and choreographers such as New Noveta, Holly Blakey and Wayne McGregor have been widely reflected in the mainstream. Over recent years a number of high-profile and successful campaigns have leveraged this trend to create engaging and energised communications. But why is everyone suddenly dancing? What’s driving our interest and connection to dance?

Transformation through dance

Spike Jonze’s creation of Kenzo World shows a young woman on the brink of tears escaping a desperately boring ceremony. Stumbling into the deserted halls of a hotel, she springs into an instinctual and joyfully disruptive dance – as if against her own will. The feeling of release is tangible as this lone woman in a ball gown breaks free and becomes her true self, crushing stereotypes of demure femininity with her powerful gestures. More recently, Apple’s Homepod advert shares a similar theme. An almost unrecognisably drab FKA Twigs dances off the drudgery of city life in the solitude of her apartment.

Not only does dance draw these examples together, they also share context. Visibly exhausted faces make way for performative expressions. Dance takes on a transformative role, for both the character and the space around them as they escape and transform  – and, ultimately, offer the audience the opportunity to do the same.

Mindful movement

Culture is shifting away from a goal-oriented mindset towards self-fulfilment and joy in the moment. For example, the popularity of dance classes as a form of exercise offer people physical release without the pressure to lose weight or beat a pb. In a culture of mindfulness, dance meets our emotional and physical needs as an active meditation. Lotte Anderson’s installation ‘Dance Therapy’ explores this therapeutic quality of movement. Similarly, influencers such as Naomi Shimada – who has collaborated with ASOS and Nike on the subject –  also advocate dance in line with self-care. Shimada incidentally stars in H&M’s spring 2018 campaign, a diverse feminist tango, choreographed by Holly Blakey.

Breaking free

The women mentioned in these examples all show a refreshing carelessness and confidence. Whether alone or in public they exist in their own worlds, free to express themselves. But the need to be authentically oneself isn’t exclusively female. The rejection of gender roles through movement is not limited. For example, Nike’s ‘Never Ask’ campaign shows Russia’s first male synchronised swimmer, Aleksandr Maltsev, overcoming strict gender roles to achieve his dreams through dance. New Zealand beer manufacturers Speight have also used dance to confront toxic-masculinity within the category, blurring the boundaries of male friendship. This makes dance an extremely effective form of unspoken communication.

In our jaded and marketing-savvy world, movement offers a visceral connection that all consumers can feel a genuine longing for. Dance has the ability to traverse boundaries between the internal and external self, offering a physical escape from the societal confines of gender, hierarchy and responsibility, or even just from our own thoughts and anxieties. This sense of liberty is a truly powerful tool for both brands and consumers to harness.

How are brands relating to the way women view the world? Crowd DNA semiotics expert Roberta Graham explores…

Recent feminist movements have fostered a cultural pressure for work created for women by women. As more female narratives appear, this challenge to the established representation of women has been labelled as the ‘female gaze’.

You’d be forgiven for assuming this was, as the name suggests, the antithesis of the well established ‘male gaze’ (a phrase coined in 1975 to describe the position of women in cinema as objects of heterosexual masculine desire). While the male gaze focuses on how the patriarchal world looks at women, the female gaze is not only about broadening representation, but how women look at the world themselves. Here we explore examples of culture and branding through female eyes.

Femininity on film

With a host of Oscar-nominated films about the female experience directed and produced by women, surface-level representation is being taken over by real control. The multifaceted women in Three Billboards, Ladybird, and I, Tonya all signal progress made in front of, as well as behind, the camera. Not limited to traditional female narratives, the gaze is also expanding representations of race, gender and sexuality. For example, Ava DuVernay has been broadening the African American narrative in mainstream cinema with Selma and, most notably, 13th, for which she became the first black women to be nominated for an Oscar in a feature category.

Still life and sensuality

With emphasis on texture, composition and light, photographers such as Harley Weir, Petra Collins and Eloise Parry create dreamlike realities where softness is often their strength. Weir, in particular, gained attention by disrupting the still life tropes of fruit and flowers as symbols of sexuality, by transforming them into portrayals of the female form. By making the inanimate animate she subverts the familiar objectification of women’s bodies, taking ownership of a lazy and stereotypical shortcut to femininity. This has been echoed in Weir’s commercial work, most recently for Calvin Klein.

Freedom of movement

As women take ownership of their bodies, value is shifting from physical appearance to expression through movement and dance. Spike Jonze for Kenzo, FKA Twigs for Apple, and Misty Copeland for Under Armour all show women using movement as a means of breaking free from the confines of social ideals. These abstractions show the female form as strong, capable, dynamic and unique.

More recently, H&M’S female tango by Holly Blakey depicts a diverse crowd of women united by dance. After rejecting a male lead, they become a collective of individuals passing on their infectious confidence from one to the next.

Strength in numbers

In the push for equality, healthy tensions have arisen within females bonds. Contrast can be seen between soft, easy sisterhood (think Solange’s ‘Cranes In The Sky’) and the power of female group resistance (Beyonce’s ‘Formation’). In 2017, Barbie also re-evaluated Girlness in a gently rebellious collaboration for iD magazine; while Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ celebrated the strength of diversity within female collectives using the words of Maya Angelou to encourage women to come together by enforcing their individuality: “I’m a woman, phenomenally, phenomenal woman. That’s me.”

The experience of being a woman is clearly multifaceted but, while we celebrate the women breaking boundaries and the diversity of narratives, there’s a hope that the female gaze will one day become so commonplace we won’t even need to discuss it.

Masculinity Report

Another nice download from Crowd DNA...

This week we hosted a Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam which explored changing attitudes to masculinity, and in particular, what being a man means among millennials. For those who missed it – and our earlier session in London – here’s a PDF on the topic. This download looks at the tensions that have evolved around male identity and is designed to help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women. Once again, there’s a playlist to soundtrack the insights.

Check out the PDF here

How to Speak Man

Our next Rise breakfast event in Amsterdam sees Crowd DNA's Joey Zeelen set about reframing masculinity...

Date: September 27

Time: 8.15am-9am

Location: Crowd DNA, Sarphatistraat 49, Amsterdam

Brands are increasingly taking political, environmental and social stands. Many are addressing female aspirations and feminism with great effect.

But what are we doing about men?

This session explores changing attitudes to masculinity and, in particular, what being a man means among millennials. Looking at the tensions that have evolved around male identity, we’ll help brands harness opportunities – and speak better to men AND women.

Join us for delicious pastries and even more delicious insights. Contact Judith Lieftink if you and/or colleagues would like to attend.

Watch the trailer below: