Heterosexual men in red lipstick will not put an end to violence against women and children

Nicholas Goliath for Brand SA's #PlayYourPart campaign.
Nicholas Goliath for Brand SA's #PlayYourPart campaign.

We've had this conversation before. 

Remember when a reputable glossy publication once put a few select public male figures in suits and stiletto heels - one of whom had recently been embroiled in a domestic violence case against his then girlfriend?

And the discussion that sprouted from it, where we reached the consensus that men in superficial signifiers of femininity or womanhood does little to nothing for the causes we are collectively fighting for as women and marginalised groups. 

READ MORE: Violence in South Africa - have we run out of empathy?

It seems Brand South Africa missed this conversation. This custodian of South Africa's nation brand launched their well-meaning #IAM campaign this week. The campaign fronted by men in red lipstick - or who have at least had their images edited to appear as though they are wearing it - has a primary objective of "encouraging all South Africans to be active participants in the fight to eradicate violence against women and children".

This call to action is further emphasised by accompanying hashtags that highlight the relationships the faces of the campaign have with women - #IAmAFather, #IAmAnUncle as well as #IAmAHusband - "I do not lay my hands on her," which is hardly a feat to be applauded. 

According to Brand SA's General Manager for Marketing Sithembile Ntombela, they have "committed [themselves] to continue with a campaign that acts as a reminder that this is not who we are as South Africa. This behaviour does not represent our ethos as a nation built on the values of Ubuntu."

"We have recently seen men uniting #NotInMyName in one voice to break the silence and showing unity in the fight for protecting women and children, for instance, the #NotInMyName movement. We commend these men for taking charge. This is why Brand South Africa found it important to support this campaign and charge men with the responsibility of their role in protecting their loved ones,” she added.

READ MORE: Ethics brought into question as Nomuzi IG Live staged car accident is confirmed as part of a road safety campaign

Again, the principle behind this movement is not the issue, rather it is the execution that leaves much to be desired. However, the fact that men have to be fathers, husbands and brothers to women before they can empathise with them raises a flag as red as their lips.

Brands need to be aware that consumer scrutiny has the power to change the intended narrative of any marketing message, however noble it claims to be.

See, the #IAM campaign is yet another one that has completely missed the mark on several counts here. The obvious error being the red lipstick serving no significant purpose at all in relation to the plight of women and children. 

The other being the red flag already mentioned above, and then a few more highlighted by the backlash from Twitter users:

The online community speaks

A better approach

Sibulele Situma, Joburg-based managing director and founder of Consumer Council Africa - a consumer insights and marketing research agency - recognises the need for brands to speak directly to men, expressing his admiration for the likes of Gillette and Carling Black Label.

"I first have to commend brands that try to address women and child abuse. Such issues are sometimes deemed too challenging to take on, and local brands have overall been slower than their international counterparts in adopting a clear stance on these topics in their messaging. However, there have been a number of brands that have taken up the challenge, from Carling Black Label’s #BoldBraveStrong campaign to the global #MeToo Gillette commercial," Sibulele explains.

READ MORE: Gillette ad backlash shows how men apparently don't like being encouraged to do better

Without expressing any disdain for Brand SA, but rather constructive criticism, the CCA founder continues to shed light on how their own research on how masculinity is perceived in different countries across Africa "suggests that campaigns that speak to men about issues such as patriarchy and gender-based violence should and must be authentically considerate of women in their narrative. And to a certain extent, Brand SA have done just that with their #IAM campaign by encouraging men to be active participants against GBV."

"However, the sensitivity of these matters means that brands have to even more careful than ever to be considered positively effective, particularly in South Africa where we are amongst the most affected in the world," he adds.

"In today’s digital age, consumers are quick to pick up and comment on brands that (even seemingly) stereotypes, typecasts, or belittles a subject matter they hold dear. Brands need to be aware that consumer scrutiny has the power to change the intended narrative of any marketing message, however noble it claims to be. In this case, Brand SA’s intended message that men own up and take responsibility for their part towards building a safer society for women and children was drowned out amongst what is seen as a gimmicky and distracting cosmetic addition – lipstick." 

In conclusion, the takeaway we got from Sibulele Situma is that "over-dressing can dilute the importance of what a brand is trying to say because instead of listening carefully to what’s coming out a person’s mouth, we are trying to figure out what they put on their lips."

We were still awaiting comment from Brands South Africa at the time of publication from this article.

For anyone affected by gender-based violence, you may call the Stop Gender-Based Violence helpline: 0800 150 150

And for a child in your life who may need this - the toll-free childline: 08000 55 555

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