Digital marketing in the #MeToo era

As the rise of the #MeToo movement unavoidably changes the societies in which we live, we talk to Molly Heffernan, director of marketing and digital at Tory Burch, about the campaign's impact on marketing


On October 15, 2017, following sexual assault allegations against former film producer Harvey Weinstein, actress Alyssa Milano penned a Tweet encouraging women to speak two incredibly simple, but incredibly powerful words: Me Too.

The result of these two words – and the #MeToo hashtag from which it was born – has been more transcendental, more inspiring and more disruptive than could have possibly been imagined. With it came a seismic shift in the way society views gender that has cast a stark and uncomfortable light on the power structures that have been working below the surface for far too long.

The brilliance and backlash has been startling.

Ahead of her participation in the panel "Women leaders in the #MeToo era" on Day One of the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in New York on March 26–27, 2019, we talk to Molly Heffernan, director of marketing and digital at the Tory Burch Foundation, about the movement's impact on marketing.

"I believe that all people have a voice and valuable story – but institutional norms, bias and a variety of other cultural issues get in the way of hearing a lot of these stories," begins Heffernan.

"At the Tory Burch Foundation we advance women's empowerment and entrepreneurship by providing access to capital, education and digital resources.

"When growing their businesses, women entrepreneurs face significant challenges accessing funding and networks – especially in comparison to their male counterparts," she outlines. "For example, only $1 in every $23 loan dollars are awarded to women entrepreneurs, and less than 2% of women owned businesses ever reach $1m in revenues. Through our work at the foundation, we are tackling these issues and shining a light on the incredible work women founders are doing."

One of the strategies that Heffernan has been crucial to includes its #EmbraceAmbition campaign which addresses the stigma of ambitious women. Tory Burch has created an online platform to celebrate those who've achieved their ambitions and to provide access and tools to help others do the same.

"We are leveraging the incredible power of digital for large-scale social change," claims Heffernan.

As with all disruptive and challenging movements the #MeToo movement comes with a highly-charged and often-disturbing backlash. One you can find by browsing any social media site for just a few moments.

When it comes to brand's intersections with the movement, one of the key criticisms companies face is that they are bowing to pressure from the "left agenda". For example, take the recent Gillette advert which attempted to tackle toxic masculinity and faced the full fury of the internet – most notably from self-proclaimed men's right's activist, Piers Morgan.

With this comes the inevitable denunciation that the company in question is simply paying lip-service to the issues surrounding the movement as a self-promotional tool, rather than an attempt to authentically become part of the narrative. We ask Heffernan how brands can avoid falling into this trap.

"Prioritizing gender diversity and equality needs to be woven into a company's DNA," she explains. "If equality hasn't previously been part of a company's culture, an entire identity shift is required for the organization."

Creating a brand identity that focuses on diversity is not an easy ask, however, and Heffernan understands this more than most.

"Promoting diversity on a team goes far beyond hiring practices and extends deep into what type of workplace leaders and teams foster – from creating identity safe places and implementing strong maternity and paternity leave policies, to addressing toxic culture," she says. "These are just some of the steps on the wide spectrum that need to be considered when authentically advancing gender equality."

The #MeToo movement has had a seismic effect on our culture overall and any effect it has on people's day-to-day is magnified tenfold in media.

"The #MeToo movement has shined a spotlight on what people in the women's empowerment space have been working on for decades and has helped ignite critical change," Heffernan remarks. "The movement has prompted people to use a new lens, and we've already seen big brands and companies responding in positive ways – cue Gillette's Super Bowl spot."

With an audience of 3.2 billion social media users across the globe, which is growing at a rate of 13% year-on-year according to We Are Social, social media is by far the fastest growing sector in marketing. However, it's also a platform that's vulnerable to abuse and trolling. Does Heffernan think social media is a platform that is one that is positive or negative for gender equality?

"We've seen incredible movements like #EmbraceAmbition and #MeToo provide massive global platforms to gender equality," she begins. "But social media is not insulated from negativity. While it can be leveraged for good, it also comes with human challenges."

Heffernan then tells us a shocking statistic: Every 30 seconds a female journalist or politician is verbally abused on Twitter.

"This is staggering and wrong. My hope is that positivity can shine brighter."

Ultimately, it's her belief that social media has potential to be an incredible tool for pushing social change.

"It is a platform that has provided immense opportunity for people to share their human stories, connect in ways previously never possible and shape new communities where people can stand in solidarity together," she notes.

Finally, we talk about digital marketing as a whole and discuss what 2019 is going to look like for the industry.

"We will continue to see user generated and participatory content rise and dominate – after all, consumers are the world's greatest content creators," she explains. "This rang true for our #EmbraceAmbition initiative, which prominently featured user generated content (UGC) from 98% of the world's countries through an online digital platform."

A huge factor driving change in the industry is the expectations of millennials and the growing audience of Gen Z'ers the industry must be prepared to plan strategies around.

"Millennials prioritize "IRL" experiences through travel, vacations, courses and other participatory moments. This desire will only continue to grow and translate into their digital world," Heffernan says, whereas "recent surveys of Gen Z'ers show that this rising group of consumers prefer "cool products" over experience.

"UGC strikes the perfect balance of experience while giving audiences the tools to create their own cool product," she concludes. "Marketers need to be thoughtful about how to implement UGC that can cut through the noise, be rich with meaning and feel authentic to consumers."

Molly Heffernan, director of marketing and digital at Tory Burch will be taking part in the panel "Women leaders in the #MeToo era" on Day One of the Digital Marketing Innovation Summit in New York on March 26–27, 2019. Check out the agenda and book tickets HERE.

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