Where packaging is constantly in tune with the society of which it represents the values.
Packaging mirrors the culture of our society and in turn contributes to creating the same. It does so through messages, that are transmitted via its shape, its graphics, its symbols: it thus transfers values and messages and takes part in the evolution of contemporary social life
8M: Packaging in defence od women. Real Support or risk of purplewashing?
March 8 (8M) is now internationally recognized as a day dedicated to the celebration of women, and on this occasion more and more brands and products demonstrate their support for the female gender through targeted communication actions. Among these, there are numerous examples of packaging that convey messages of awareness in defense of women’s rights, but the risk of slipping into the so-called “purplewashing” is unfortunately real.
Often mistakenly referred to as “Women’s Day”, what is celebrated on March 8 is actually “International Women’s Day” (or “International Women’s Rights Day”). In fact, the motivation behind this anniversary is not a simple holiday, but the reflection on the condition of women within society, in different countries of the world.
It is an international anniversary which underlines the importance of fighting for women’s rights, in particular for their emancipation, recalling the social, economic and political achievements and drawing attention to issues such as gender equality, reproductive systems, discrimination and various forms of violence against women.
Each year this celebration focuses on specific themes. In 2023 attention will be focused on gender equity and inclusion, promoted with the hashtag #EmbraceEquity (“embrace equity”) and the claim “equal opportunities are no longer enough” (literally: “equal opportunities are no longer sufficient).
Equity recognizes the different circumstances in which people find themselves and assigns each person the resources and opportunities necessary to achieve the same result for all, unlike equality, according to which each individual or group of people receives the same resources or opportunities, without however necessarily guaranteeing the conditions for achieving the same result.
Among the examples of campaigns developed in support of women on the occasion of March 8, in the United States, Hershey is once again offering a limited edition of its iconic chocolate bars: “Hershey’s SHE”.
Each pack carries the message “She is” followed by adjectives describing qualities such as intelligence, courage, resilience, passion or persistence. Over 200 adjectives were selected by Hershey’s in partnership with the nonprofit Girls on the Run based on interviews in which participants were asked to name characteristics of female figures that have a significant impact on their lives.
Hershey Canada has teamed up with Girl Up to launch the “Her for She” campaign again this year. Five Canadian women and their work are celebrated on the packaging of five bars: Autumn Peltier, activist in defense of the right to safe drinking water of Canadian native tribes; Fae Johnstone, 2LGBTQIA+ rights advocate; Rita Audi, gender equity and education activist; Naila Moloo, climate researcher; and Kélicia Massalaa, founder of Girl Up Québec.
Hershey’s Canada has partnered with artist Gosia Komorski to depict the five women on Hershey’s bars.
With the aim of “supporting women flipping the status quo”, Mars presents on the packaging of the M&M’S confetti three female characters, Green, Brown and Purple, represented upside down on the product to reinforce the campaign message.
The colors of the three characters have a very precise symbolic meaning: if the brown color wants to represent the integration and rights of black women, the green and purple instead refer to the suffragette movement, i.e. to the “Women’s Social & Political Union” (WSPU ) who fought for women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom from 1903 to 1918. It is no coincidence that, over time, the color purple has become one of the symbolic elements of feminist movements.
The purple M&M’s confetti had already been launched in September 2022, through a large musical number posted on YouTube, which introduced “Purple” into the narrative universe of M&M’s. For each viewing of the video, M&M’s donated $1 (up to $500,000) to Sing for Hope, a non-profit organization that aspires to “create a better world through the arts.”
Similarly, this year M&M’s will donate $1 of every box purchased on International Women’s Day to She Is the Music and We Are Moving the Needle, two organizations that support women in music. Additional donations go to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and the Female Founder Collective.
Also interesting is the case of Miller Lite beer and its recent campaign “Bad $#!t to good $#!t!” with which the brand wanted to be forgiven by those who invented beer – women – by declaring that they wanted to transform old sexist advertising in compost and fertilizer.
For months, in fact, Miller Lite searched for its own posters and those of other beer brands, many of which portrayed sexualized and objectified women in bikinis. The harvested material will be converted into fertilizer and used to grow hops which will be donated to beer producers. Additionally, the brand is committed to supporting the Pink Boots Society, which is dedicated to helping women in the brewing profession.
In 2022, on the occasion of the celebration of Independence Day, Miller Lite had already launched a campaign to celebrate the figure of women in the beer sector, proposing a limited edition of its drink dedicated to Mary Lisle, who in 1734 successfully managed a Philadelphia brewery, becoming the first female brewer in the United States. However, the figure of Mary Lisle was soon forgotten, together with that of the other “Ale Wives” (literally “wives of beer”).
Another forgotten story is that of Rose Mattus, co-founder of Häagen-Dazs, celebrated this year with a global initiative aimed at highlighting her contribution to the brand and its #DontHoldBack ethos. Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream, renamed “Founder’s Favourite” in recognition of Rose’s fondness for this iconic flavor since 1960, was offered to all customers on International Women’s Day in selected Häagen-Dazs stores.
The examples cited are just some exemplary cases of a phenomenon that is gradually spreading throughout the world. However, the doubt remains whether campaigns like these are an expression of real awareness and a concrete commitment to defending women’s rights, both inside and outside organizations (for example, ensuring equal conditions and fair wages), or whether in reality they are of commercial operations that could fall – sometimes even unknowingly – into the so-called “purplewashing”, an expression attributed to the writer Brigitte Vasallo and currently used by feminist movements to refer to political and marketing strategies that promote speeches in favor of women’s rights but which realities hide discrimination and gender inequalities.
Purplewashing refers to the efforts that Western countries make to protect their image and divert attention from the fact that they have not achieved real equality between men and women. This term is also used to denounce the partisan use that would be made of feminism to promote xenophobic and Islamophobic discourses or policies, emphasizing for example the fact that women of other cultures live in worse conditions, especially in Muslim majority countries.
For some activists, faced with what they denounce as an exploitation of women’s rights, the only possible and emancipatory response for all minorities is intersectional solidarity between different oppressed groups, such as women, but also migrants, sexual minorities , etc.
This type of “image washing” directly recalls other practices, such as “whitewashing” or “greenwashing” .
Whitewashing refers, for example, to the use by the film industry – in particular Hollywood – of Caucasian actresses and actors to play characters of other ethnic groups, with the aim of making them more attractive to the general public.
The expression greenwashing, particularly widespread today, was coined in 1986 by environmentalist Jay Westerveld in reference to the hotel industry which falsely promoted the reuse of towels as part of a wider environmental strategy, when in reality it was a measure of savings.
Again in the context of women’s causes, even before purplewashing, in the early 2000s, the Breast Cancer Action organization had coined the term “pinkwashing” to refer to all those companies producing goods containing carcinogenic ingredients, which to wash their image and win public opinion, they included the iconic “pink ribbon”, symbol of the fight against breast cancer, in their advertisements or on their packaging, to show support for the prevention and treatment of this disease.
It was in 2002 that the “Think Before You Pink” campaign was officially born, with an advertisement in the New York Times, to ask for greater transparency and ethical responsibility from companies that participated in initiatives to support cancer research and to avoid speculating on an issue very serious and delicate only for a return in terms of money and visibility.
Once again, packaging proves to be a powerful means of mass communication which, like more traditional media, is capable of conveying contents that transcend the product and its brand, such as messages of social awareness, for example in support of woman rights. However, in order to be truly effective and not fall into an “image washing” operation, this practice must be accompanied by concrete actions aimed at improving the condition of women, reflecting a sense of ethical responsibility that is now essential in the contemporary context, in light of the current crises.
Article of a non-commercial nature disseminated for the exclusive purpose of information, criticism or teaching. All trademarks shown belong to their legitimate owners; the rights referring to product names, trade names and product images are the property of their respective owners.
Opening image of Free Pik