Play energy drink is currently running a campaign about extra-ordinary individuals (their words) under the banner ‘Play Heroes’. I was very excited by the few things I saw online, vid clips about people (some of whom I know) doing amazing things in what can euphemistically be called the urban/ street culture scene.
So when I saw someone on my Twitter timeline link to the Play Heroes site, I clicked the link to see who else forms part of the ‘Play Heroes’ group.
I love looking at campaigns like this for two reasons:
1. It’s always nice to see people you know and who work super hard get recognised for doing something amazing. Yay!
2. I edit a young women’s magazine, and I’m always on the look out for young women to profile. Example: I recently contacted Red Bull because they had an all-woman dance crew in their Beat Battle competition.
So I was quite taken aback when I logged onto the Play Heroes site and saw this:
Dudes. Bros. Guys. Men. Only.
So I tried to scroll left. Then right. Nothing. That’s it. I know many of the guys featured, so I’m ecstatic that they’re getting props, but I found the lack of women startling.
I was like, ‘HUH?’. But, before I jump to conclusions, I like to research things (it’s the journalist in me). I looked through the site. I Googled the brand. Maybe the omission of women was part of the campaign? If Play was a drink marketed at men only, then this’d make complete sense, right? Like, I wouldn’t expect women to be represented in the Bar One Manhunt search. Or women to be advertising men’s deodorant or shampoo.
Yet, there’s absolutely nothing on the Play site that suggests the drink is marketed only to guys. It’s an energy drink. It’s marketed as gender-neutral, like Fanta or Coca-Cola.
This is what I found about the brand on the Coca-Cola company website:
Beware the kick
Power Play is an energy drink that delivers a powerful energy kick at any everyday affordable price. With a light, palatable taste, Power Play is easy to drink. It’s also revitalising because it contains B-group vitamins and caffeine that restore energy.
The drink’s key selling points: affordability, palatable taste, B-vitamins, caffeine. Not geared towards men or women specifically.
I then searched the Play Heroes blog to see if I’d missed anything. And this is the site’s introductory entry:
The time has come to reveal this project.
In a bland world of the uneventful; the ordinary, some individuals do manage to rise from the clutter to do what it truly original and extraordinary… Now, this is not determined by the shoes they wear or the size of their wristwatches. It is not defined by their style or walk; what they listen to or who their friends are. It’s about what they do and how they do it. It’s what’s inside that counts.
We’ve selected 7 #PlayHeroes that best represent our definition of a hero. 7 living, breathing examples of achievement with humility, and we’ve given them this space to PLAY.
Follow their journeys, their inspiring life-stories and the waves they cause around themselves. And who knows, you could be the next?
Nothing gender specific about that description either (emphasis on pronouns is mine). Just to cover all my bases, I consulted the Oxford Dictionary and its first entry under ‘hero’ is:
‘A person who is admired for their courage or outstanding achievements’
Do you see where I’m going with this? Despite the fact that Play is NOT geared to men only, that this is campaign is for PEOPLE who are into urban culture, Play chose to completely ignore women in their celebration of extra-ordinary individuals.
So I obvs brought this up on Twitter, coz this is how we roll in the 21st century (read from bottom to top):
And this is the response I got from Play:
That response bothered me on two levels:
What they’re basically telling me is that currently they don’t feel that any women represent their brand. Because, if they were looking in the spaces these guys operate, they’d find women, too.
So in Play’s estimation, it’s all good and well that women attend Party People, Thesis Social Jam Sessions, buy Head Honcho product, shop at the DOPE store, but they couldn’t be bothered to feature women in their campaign.
Because I can tell you that even the most cursory of observer can see that women are equally present at these events. We’re not just accessories to urban/ street culture, we impact and move culture too, not to mention that we have immense buying power.
Off the top of my head I can think of numerous women who could be identified as Play Heroes: the doepelganger crew, Bianca Miles, Zaki Ebrahim, Vie, Milli Bongela, Buli (the Thesis co-founder who wasn’t included in the Thesis entry on the Play Heroes site).
It’s such a standard, dismissive PR 101 response. And it’s completely insufficient. dismissing my concerns, and basically telling me ‘ok, next time’, meaning women weren’t thought of as the core consumer base at all. As someone who works on one of the leading teen brands in SA, I found the reply lacking, patronising and pathetic.
Eventually, the brand manager, Kgomotso, got involved and reached out to me and this is basically the crux of our conversation (my comments in parenthesis):
- This is the first phase of the campaign, and they had been discussing the gender issue
- Globally, energy drink campaigns are skewed more male, so they were just following what’s happening interrnationally (so they didn’t think of tweaking it to deal with SAfrican context?)
- My concerns were valid and gender exclusion runs counter to their values
- They had to narrow down and make tough choices (Such as omit Buli in their entry about Thesis?)
Ok, so a day later, I still feel supremely dismissed by that conversation. I still haven’t received an email from Play, despite them requesting and receiving my email address.
But they admitted that (1) this was not supposed to be a men-only campaign and, from what I could gather (2) they were hoping this’d slide past us without being noticed because it was ‘international precedent’.
Now let me break down why this is so problematic for me:
- I work in media. I understand how the ‘machine’ works. I know that exposure begets more exposure begets corporate deals. So when women are excluded, that means they’re yet again put on a back foot when they approach corporates for backing for their creative projects. Excluding women so blatantly affects our pockets. So while we’re happily going around, buying into the idea that Play is ‘down’ and ‘with it’ with regards to urban culture, they’re not even throwing the women in that culture a bone.
- Role modeling. Part of why I’m a magazine editor is because of Khanyi Dhlomo. I only met her about three or four years ago, but just observing her greatness and reading her magazine as a child spurred me on to know that I could do it too someday. How are women going to move past being ‘just consumers’ of urban culture, booty hopping in the background, and move into ownership if they’re not shown the type of women who are doing it? This is about encouraging creative entrepreneurship.
- Privilege denial. Zama summed it up perfectly on Twitter:
And let me just answer a few of the lame comments directed at me on Twitter:
- I don’t have a stake in this campaign’s success or failure. To those people who inferred that I feel personally overlooked: get a life. I don’t really move in these spaces. The recognition I wouldn’t mind? I would not mind if PICA thinks I should be Editor of the Year.
- To those who said ‘oh, but First For Women is sexist’ or ‘We didn’t complain when Brutal Fruit had a Glam Camp’: so because you were quiet when you felt excluded, I have to remain quiet when I see injustice? Hmm, no. That’s not how it works. So we’re all supposed to just ignore injustices nje? C’mon now, let’s get real. I’m not going to block your voice when you feel something is unjust, so don’t shout me down either. How would you feel if the Springboks selectors pick an all-white squad or if a publicly traded company has an all-white Board?
- To those who basically told me to stay out of ‘men’s things’ or that this is specifically for men: I think I’ve pretty much cleared that up in this blog post.
So what’s the road ahead?
- I will continue to consume Red Bull or Monster until I see a change in the Play campaign
- A bunch of men I thought I liked truly showed their asses on twitter.