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From profit to purpose: Rethinking media’s role on days of historical significance

First female Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Publicis Groupe Africa, Koo Govender calls for a rethinking of the marketing and media industry’s role on cultural and historical days of significance.

Women’s month is once again gaining incredible traction in South Africa and consumers are being flooded by campaigns and communications from some of the biggest brands in the country – all of them leveraging the talkability of women with cliché lines like “celebrating our leading ladies”, “girl power” and “breaking the glass ceiling”.

While reading this, you may have assumed that I’d be commending the creative brilliance and excellence echoing across social and traditional media platforms; however, I want us all to take a long, hard look in the mirror as an industry, and ask the question: are we truly honouring these days of significance?

Although our core business revolves around selling products and building a reputation for our clients, we must acknowledge our role in shaping public perceptions by influencing (or leveraging) cultural values of the market. As we commemorate significant days with historical importance (like Women’s Day), it is essential to recognise these occasions run deeper than a simple opportunity to capitalise on trends or boost sales.

The observance of Women’s Day in South Africa and similar events like Black History Month in the United States serve as poignant reminders of our shared history and the struggles of those who came before us. These moments stand as a testament to the resilience and courage of those who fought tirelessly for the rights and opportunities we enjoy today. It is vital that we do not let these commemorations devolve into mere token gestures or marketing gimmicks, undermining their true essence.

As an industry that wields significant influence, we have a responsibility to craft messages that resonate with audiences on a profound level. Instead of creating campaigns solely for commercial gain, we must take the opportunity to connect with our consumers emotionally and intellectually. Acknowledging the significance of these days can open up a dialogue that inspires positive change rather than perpetuating shallow stereotypes or empty narratives.

In our quest for innovation and creativity, we should not forget the roots of these commemorative days. Women’s Day, for instance, marks the 1956 march of South African women against passing laws, a powerful demonstration of unity and defiance against injustice. It is a day to celebrate progress and reflect on the journey ahead towards achieving true gender equality and empowerment.

Let us utilise our combined superpowers as an industry to create impactful and meaningful messages. Messages that not only entertain but enlighten, that not only persuade but provoke thought. The advertising and media industry can be a force for positive change, driving inclusivity and dismantling harmful stereotypes.

Furthermore, we must ensure that our campaigns are not tone-deaf or disrespectful. Careful consideration must be given to these significant days’ cultural context and sensitivities. Our creative endeavours should never exploit or appropriate the struggles of others for our benefit. Instead, they should foster understanding and appreciation of diverse perspectives.

As we embrace Women’s Day in South Africa and other days of significance going forward, let us remember the power we hold as content creators. Let us strive for authenticity, empathy and social responsibility. Let us not merely sell products but also contribute to a world where meaningful messages drive change and inspire progress. Together, we can make a difference and show that our industry is not just about profit but is driven by purpose.

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