THE BLOG

One Savvy Decision From Pirelli Has Put Gender Equality and its Brand Back in Focus

04/12/2015 09:58 GMT | Updated 03/12/2016 10:12 GMT

For fifty years, the Pirelli calendar's glossy pages have shamelessly objectified women under the guise of artistic indulgence.

Now, the iconic calendar has made U-turn, away from images of naked bodies writhing on golden sands and towards a feminist agenda.

Under photographer Annie Leibovitz's creative guidance, Pirelli has turned the lens on women who have changed the world, not just adorned the world.

The result is a showcase of women's strength and achievements over their physical assets. It celebrates the mark females have made on culture, sport, business, global peace and entertainment.

This is a symbolic moment. This calendar is an institution, but its over-sexualised black and white shots were as much to blame for the objectification of women as a lads' mag or page three. Regardless of how expensively bound the book is, or who designed your coffee table, soft porn is soft porn.

As a female business leader, as an advertising executive and as a mother to a little girl, I see this as an important shift in the way today's society views women.

Pirelli should be congratulated for their change of heart, but the reality is that it is also an extremely savvy business decision on their part.

The automotive industry is notoriously male dominated - fast cars and scantily clad women seem to go hand in hand. But with this move, Pirelli is tapping into the enormous buying power of women, a group who are in fact purchasing more cars than men these days.

Before this, Pirelli was a brand fading into cultural and commercial irrelevance. Did anyone even notice the last calendar? This move has put them back on the map. It has made them feel contemporary again.

That should create a halo on their product too. That's important in a category which is driven by innovation. According to the IPA's Databank, communications which get talked about are more effective than those which focus on rational messages.

Pirelli has found a way to weave its brand back into popular culture. And I'm sure this will drive their commercial agenda.

But I think brands can go further. The best brands can shape not just reflect popular culture. They can crystallise something we've all been feeling, but haven't articulated yet.

Of course Pirelli's new direction has caused a stir, but the world is moving far too slowly towards equality. Actions like this barely even begin scratch the surface of the bigger problem we face.

As I look around business and politics, I recognize how far away we are from being equal. Women represent a tiny fraction of senior leadership in these spheres of influence. Meanwhile, at the school gates, there are still only one or two dads on standby to collect their kids versus a sea of women.

A recent report from the World Economic Forum estimates that women won't reach economic equality with men until 2133 and this isn't a problem that is restricted to paychecks, boardroom quotas and glass ceilings - it affects every part of daily life.

Despite our best efforts, unconscious bias remains as damaging to gender equality as ever. Ingrained beliefs about the way we should look and behave affect both genders from babyhood to adulthood. Our aspirations reflect the norms we grow up with. They are compounded by 1,000 years of adopted 'truths'.

I can look on this move by Pirelli with the eyes of an advertising strategist, of a CEO but in truth, I am viewing it as a mother of a five year old girl.

My concern is that my daughter will grow up in a world in which her worth will be predominantly judged by how she looks, not what she does. This doesn't look set to change fast enough.

The women featured in the 2016 Pirelli calendar have changed the world and should be celebrated for doing so. I just hope that the next generation of young women, won't need to fight so hard to have their achievements - rather than their looks - recognised.