Feminism: a brand by any other name…

Some caveats before I begin:

  1.  I fully support Feminism, and consider myself a Feminist. Gender equality is crucial to a better society, and I actively work to challenge gender roles and stereotypes in my own life.
  2. There are many reasons why Feminism is the most appropriate name for the gender equality movement, given its turbulent history. Courtney Loiacondo presents a compelling argument for the name here.
  3. This is written from the perspective of a marketer, assessing the strength of a brand name with the general population. It is not a manifesto nor Men’s Rights Activism piece. I abhor the narrative that MRA advocates employ, and would never support it.
  4. The image is of Iceland, a country consistently rated one of the highest in the world for gender equality. The illustration is the first I came across when searching for ‘Feminism Logo’.

Feminism is a brand

Now, it may seem strange, or perhaps even disrespectful to call Feminism a brand. As a social and cultural movement working towards the betterment of humanity through gender equality, being equated with fizzy drinks or fast food could be considered insulting.

However, at a fundamental level, they are very similar. A brand is a word or phrase that represents values and ideas in the minds of people. Brands rely on large numbers of people to be aware of the values they represent, for the success of their businesses. For a safe car, there is Toyota. For a luxury car, there’s Lexus. For healthy fast food, there’s Subway. For an online social community, there’s Facebook. In this sense, Feminism is also a brand, jostling for a position within the consumer’s mind.

Brand values

Brand names come in a variety of flavours. Some are highly conceptual, representing abstract words or sounds. Car brands such as Holden, Ford, Toyota and Lexus have names we’re used to, but the words themselves don’t mean anything independently of their parent companies. Others incorporate both conceptual and literal ideas, such as Coca-Cola. There are also fully literal brand names, such as Alzheimer’s Australia.

Each type of brand name has its own merits and drawbacks. Conceptual names require constant advertising and communication to reinforce the brand values with consumers. However, in the event they wish to evolve their company, a conceptual name provides more flexibility. A literal name clearly and concisely represents the brand’s values and so requires less frequent advertising for awareness. The flipside is that changing the company, and what it means for consumers, is very difficult.

The power of a name

Choosing the right name is critical to the success of a brand. A name needs to clearly and instantly the essence of the product in an instant. The best name will be clear, easy to remember, catchy and act as a shorthand for the product category.


One of the most influential books on branding – required reading for anyone in marketing, advertising, PR and so on – is Positioning: the battle for your mind by Al Ries and Jack Trout. Using some of the biggest and most powerful brands as case studies, they explore just how influential the name of a brand can be.

Feminism vs…

The goals of Feminism are noble, worthwhile and crucial to the advancement of society. The historical relevance of the name is not under debate (at least, not here nor by me). The question I am addressing is, as a brand:

Is Feminism the most effective name for the gender equality movement?

Effectiveness is the key phrase. Social or cultural movements contain passionate people advocating for their cause. With passion comes emotion. However, to truly assess the marketing potential (maximisation of the reach and penetration of a particular message) of the brand name Feminism, we need to critically and objectively examine what it means to the broader population, just as we might with any other brand.

As thinking creatures, we are very intellectually lazy. We take many things on face value, constructing meaning from impressions and hunches. It’s a biological survival imperative, rooted in our early evolutionary history.

For example, if it looks like a lion in tall grass, I’m going to assume it’s a lion and act accordingly for my survival. There may be negative outcomes to this action even if I survive (the loss of an antelope to feed the tribe), yet the instinct is sound.

As a result of this predisposition, we also judge language on first impressions. There are many factors at play in our immediate assessment of a word or phrase. Cultural norms, religious beliefs, family environment and so on all contribute to how we perceive and interpret names and labels. A sedan and a ute are both vehicles, yet their labels immediately communicate two distinctly different impressions. One is often a family car, usually not powerful or souped up. The other is a workhorse, perhaps owned by a young tradesman or farmer. Obviously there are exceptions to these examples, but as an impression, this is what you thought of when you heard the names.

When we hear the name Feminism, we immediately generate a set of impressions. If we are not overly familiar with the topic, we operate with the information we have at hand, which is the word itself. By nature of the Fem, it focuses on the female gender. So, we may naturally presume that it is a movement for the empowerment of women. However, this is not all Feminism is about. Feminism is now largely defined as a movement fighting for equality of all genders (and to some extent, races) in society.

Therein lies the problem.

I have seen countless articles and opinion pieces by individuals on both sides of Feminism, arguing vehemently about the definition of the word. Considering how often this comes up, it suggests that as a name, Feminism isn’t communicating its values clearly or accurately. A name change could address this issue.

What is the alternative?

There are many, but the most logical from a pure branding standpoint would be Humanism. The name incorporates the -ism required to indicate a movement or social cause, and the word human to indicate its focus is on humanity, rather than a specific gender. Whilst currently Humanism is defined as a philosophy, rather than a movement, this could easily be adapted to suit the needs of Feminism. It would appeal to a much broader audience, and would be far less likely to suffer the misinterpretation that the term Feminism does on a regular basis.

Are there any negatives?

Indeed, there could be. Taking the focus of the name away from women denies that they are the primary (and worthy) beneficiaries of gender equality. It also removes the historical aspect of the name, and the atrocities women have suffered in the name of equality. These are serious consequences, and in the event that a name change were considered, these factors should not be taken lightly. They are the deeper values that Feminism represents, and given appropriate and objective research, any intellectually-minded person would consider these crucial.

As a brand, Feminism has many challenges when it comes to reaching the consumer. I, for one, am happy to help.