Women’s Day 2023: Ford vs. Mercedes

Two Women’s Day 2023 campaigns by automobile companies that stood out for me, for vastly different reasons: Ford and Mercedes.

Ford’s campaign, by the agency VMLY&R, was something of a crowd favorite, given the number of people I noticed sharing it on LinkedIn and Twitter (with quite a few people tagging me and sending it to me via direct messages).

I understand the popular appeal. The ad pitches a men’s only edition of Ford Explorer, unironically, and in a clever gimmick, for Women’s Day!

Why do I think it’s gimmicky?

Consider what ‘men’s only’ means.

Its most commonly understood meaning is, ‘for use by men’. As in men’s only shampoo, men’s only soap, and so on. But Ford’s context of ‘men’s only’, unlike what we understand of that phrase, is ‘consisting of features/products made only by men’. You get this context only later when the ad reveals why some of the crucial elements of the vehicle are missing – because they were invented/made by women.

The framing is done for the sake of standing out: that is, twist the meaning of ‘men’s only’ from ‘made for men’ to ‘made only by men’.

Did men ever claim that they are not ok with something made by women?
Of course not 🙂

But, as I said earlier, I understand why the agency used this framing – it catches attention immediately because of the ‘men’s only’ claim on women’s day. But, in my mind, it clearly lands as a forced gimmick because the framing is intentionally deceptive only to stand out. The argument to be made is perhaps, ‘if this framing gets more people to notice all these women inventors, then, why not?’.

For that, we may need to consider a narrative that puts the women inventors’ inventions and body of work as the primary pitch, without bringing about a hypothetical scenario where men are not ok with using the inventions produced by women. One cannot say that such a narrative would be uninteresting or not as captivating, because it simply has not been made yet. It’s just that Ford and its agency chose to use a certain narrative with a gimmicky lead to land the idea of women inventors in the automobile industry.

The other ad is by Mercedes, made by ‘Team ×’, Omnicom’s customized, global communications and marketing agency for Mercedes-Benz.

I personally found the Mercedes effort to be more thought-provoking. It made me look at the framing and idea keenly because it has a very unique perspective to approach women’s day.

The ad starts by showcasing exceptional women (including Reema Juffali, Saudi Arabia’s first female racing driver, who is competing in the GT World Challenge at the wheel of a Mercedes-AMG GT3. She obtained her racing licence when Saudi Arabia lifted its long-standing ban on women driving in 2017) with the voiceover making the obvious Women’s Day statements:

“This is what it looks like to be exceptional.
To stand out from the crowd.
To make history”.

But then, it twists the whole narrative in an unusual direction:

“But what if women didn’t have to be exceptional?
What if they didn’t have to be the first, the best or the only woman?
What if being a female engineer wasn’t remarkable?
What if women and men could compete as equals?”

The girl offers a personal closure in the end:
“I don’t want to make history.
I don’t want to be the only woman.
I want to be one of many.”

This framing is refreshingly different because it appeals to the normalization of women in everything, which is how it should ideally be (and eventually will be). Even though the very purpose of Women’s Day is to make it a day to celebrate the pioneering efforts of women over the year (that led the path for so many women in so many ways), Mercedes’ campaign is looking into the future, to a day when women’s participation is so normal that it doesn’t evoke any reaction at all, let alone celebration.

In a way, Mercedes’ film is advocating for the needlessness of a day like Women’s Day, and that’s a bold idea. It’s also different from another oft-used narrative – why celebrate just one day as Women’s Day… shouldn’t we respect women every single day?

Of course, we are still quite a few years away from that, but ‘normalization’ is a pretty unique framing. ‘I want to be one of many’, in any other context, may seem trivializing, but within the context set by Mercedes, it sounds like a clarion call for, ‘Enough of this. Let’s get on with our lives where these distinctions don’t matter at all. It’s a shame that they do, in present times’.