Commentary

Brawny's 'Strength' Deflates Gender Cliches

Brace yourself, people, because I’m about to unleash a take so blindingly, volcanically hot that MediaPost has put retinal specialists and magmatologists on retainer. I’m not joking. Don’t read the next paragraph unless you have copious amounts of gauze, ointment and holy water on hand. I cannot eliminate the possibility that it will reduce your house to a smoldering pile of ashes or sear the flesh off your bones. FYI: If you need a skin graft, I know a guy.

Okay. Ready? Here we go: Women are much worse than men at loading the dishwasher.

I base this conclusion on the statistically significant, 100-percent-representative-of-society sample of my wife, my mom and one of my two sisters (the other sister is a fine, responsible loader of dishwashers and car trunks alike). I don’t think this reflects on their overall intellectual fitness so much as on their spatial-reasoning capabilities. When they stack five kiddie cups atop one another, they are unable to envision an outcome other than “everything gets clean.” This would be harmless, were it not for the wine glasses and non-Pyrex containerware sacrificed at the altar of their obliviousness.

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In every non-dishwasher-related way, of course, these women are superior to me. My wife in particular - her strength, spirit and utter unfazability are my oxygen. Rhapsodize about Russell Westbrook or Jack Bauer or Aquaman all you want; she’s my strong-person role model.

It will not surprise you, then, that I’m on board with anything - brand campaigns, postal holidays, limited-edition Ben & Jerry flavors, etc. - that celebrates women like her. The problem is that most such efforts end up celebrating stereotypes associated with strong women, rather than the women themselves. You hear a whole bunch about individuality and independence and fearlessness, traits which correlate as much with strong women as they do with strong men, strong children and strong zoo animals that wander away from their enclosures and into oncoming traffic, strongly.

“Strength Has No Gender,” Brawny’s ongoing brand-redefinition effort, steers clear of those clichés. The most talked-about part of the campaign has been the replacement on the brand’s packaging of the traditional Brawny dude with a woman, which was rolled out in such a matter-of-fact manner as to neutralize “men’s rights” “activists” before they could yelp for a boycott. Just as worthy of attention, though, is the video content that Brawny has been parceling out for the last month or so.

The “Strength Has No Gender” clips effect a no-bullshit, no-big-deal tone. In one, Dr. Anna Kornbrot speaks plainly about encountering gender bias at the unnamed Ivy League institution where she was studying to become an oral surgeon. She discusses the resilience instilled in her by her parents - both Holocaust survivors - and bemusedly notes that “no one has had to rescue [her] in the middle of surgery.” The clip ends with Dr. Kornbrot posed Brawny-style, arms folded in a manner that suggests easy confidence and self-satisfaction.

The videos featuring coder Brittany Wenger and combat pilot Vernice Armour proceed in much the same manner: The protagonists tell their stories and strike understated poses, and that’s that. The minimalist approach works, because their achievements are so impressive as to negate the need for third-party validation.

The first-person testimonials that drive “Strength Has No Gender” convey everything we need; there’s no need for bluster or you-go-girl affirmation. Marketers attempting to infuse their brands with desirable traits, whether strength or empathy or imperviousness to hypnotism or whatever, ought to study the hell out of Brawny’s management of the campaign - the brand videos, the PR, all of it. It’s as assured an approach as we’ve seen in a long while.
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