Good intentions gone wrong – #womenintech

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IBM’s campaign to encourage more women into STEM careers, ‘Hack a Hairdryer’, was painful to watch. Not because it was appallingly bad, or even because of the caustic backlash but because it was a good, worthwhile campaign corrupted by a simple error of judgement that could easily have been avoided.

It came down to a lack of audience insight (unless you count the glaring gender stereotype as an attempt at audience insight) or risk assessment. Just a moment more consideration given to the target audience and the range of possible reactions the campaign could illicit, and the idea would have been canned – probably in favour of something thoughtful and effective.

We recently worked with Bupa on a campaign to encourage employers to support breast cancer survivors in the workplace. The campaign needed to communicate the positive role employment could have on breast cancer recovery but it was vital that we addressed in the issue in a way that was sensitive to the community at the centre of the topic and reflected their real experiences and perspectives. So we did the only thing we thought sensible, we tested our campaign with breast cancer survivors.

We’ve written before about danger of marketers projecting their own narrow perspectives onto their audiences – in IBM’s case it was the assumption that young women can only identify with a societal symbol of their gender. Although the backlash has been damaging for IBM it may yet enhance the cause as dozens of brilliant women highlight the inspiring opportunities of STEM careers…beyond the hairdryer.