Gender Equality, Digital Media & Crisis Management: What brands can learn from Access Bank

“My version of feminism means acknowledging that women have and continue to have gotten the bad end of things, politically and socially, all over the world. Feminism means not only acknowledging that, but wanting to make it better.” – Chimamanda Adichie.

Feminism can be described as a movement of whose goal is to establish equal personal, cultural, political, economic and social rights for WOMEN. It seeks to empower and lift women beyond the oppressive gender stereotyping that is typical of most cultures.

Gender equality refers to the view that MEN And WOMEN should be treated equally and no one should be discriminated against as a result of their gender.

I like to think feminism and gender equality are one and the same and whatever slight difference exists between them is irrelevant to this article. Most people prefer to identify with gender equality rather than feminism because of the negative connotation the latter has garnered over the years. In fact, the classic stereotype of a feminist is an angry old maid who cannot find a man. This false connotation is often promoted by an unbending society and the insecurities of the men who perpetuate misogyny.

These established fundamental beliefs that women are inferior (weaker sex) have been greatly condemned and despite the strides taken to eradicate the gender inequality over the years; our culture continually perpetuates the dominance of the man. Some of us are aware of the 1960’s feminist ‘bra burning’ movement in protest of it, the 1980’s fashion trend of shoulder pads, big hair and bold makeup which was supposed to make women assert themselves and make the most of their sexuality and independence. The ‘free bleeding’ movement of 2014 (I think these set of extremists should be flogged before being mentally evaluated). With the changing times, the societal construct of feminism has become more dynamic, with women challenging the norms daily by assuming office in areas especially of governance, directorship and executive leadership.

The advent of digital media is one of the best things to happen to mankind. One of its prominent benefits is the swift and viral dissemination of information/content and its wide reach in every demographic. A lot of brands and campaigns (especially the movement for gender equality) have benefitted greatly from it. In fact, this is why it is necessary for every brand to have an online presence.

However, digital media has its demerits for the same reason it is highly popular; it can take only one mistake to cause irreparable damage to a brand’s image. Basic transparency and high customer expectations reign supreme in the digital world and ignoring strong public digital voices is no longer an option. This is because social media audiences serve as influencers for a much larger audience. Brands therefore have to learn to communicate effectively on social media, listen to the social chatter and respond in the ways that align with both brand and customer expectations.

Case in Point: The Access Bank Advert

Access bank was the unfortunate recipient of social media backlash on the 10th of August 2015 when a snapshot of an advert placed in the punch newspaper was circulated online.

What was particularly astonishing is the fact that nothing in their track record remotely suggests a predisposition towards sexism or gender discrimination. In fact, I would say that Access bank sets an excellent example for gender equality (its board is led by a woman and its employees are a fair balance of men and women). Perhaps that is why disbelief and anger made up equal parts of the public outrage. The Ad was seen as a perpetuation of gender stereotypes and a poor depiction of a potentially good initiative.

As aforementioned, one of the prominent advantages of social media is the viral dissemination of information but it can do massive damage to a brand reputation where such content is negative. Access Bank understood this and took a great step in crisis management upon seeing the anger the Ad was generating –they issued an instant apology.

I was particularly impressed with the speed and content of their response. There was no argument/justification of the Ad, or an explanation as to what they were thinking in the first place (I’m still a little curious to be honest). In a series of tweets, they effectively doused the flames with a responsive, humble and heartfelt apology.

Brands can learn a few things from how Access Bank managed the situation:

  1. Listening

If you are not present or listening to the social chatter, the damage would be done long before you become aware of it. Most online brand crisis can be prevented just by picking up the early chatter and being prepared to address it before it escalates.

  1. Honesty

“We wish to sincerely apologize for the messaging in our press ad, which was released in the newspapers this morning” – @myaccessbank

  1. Acknowledge Your Mistake

“We agree the communication of the ad inappropriately represented our intended message of women empowerment” -@myaccessbank

  1. State the remedy

“Our full and unreserved apologies to all who have been offended by the ad. The ad has been discontinued” – @myaccessbank

  1. Address Concerns

“Access Bank will continue to support the growth of women, both in our workplace, and businesses we support through our W Banking Initiative” -@myaccessbank

While a small minority still think a twitter apology for an advert than ran on print is insufficient, in the end, we can all agree on one thing: apology accepted. The real danger however lies in the potential for a repeat behavior and for the brand to acquire a negative reputation as a result of it. So, I sincerely hope that Access Bank’s mistake is a one-off.

As it is with every other critical form of public relations, crisis management is an important component of brand perception management especially when a topical issue such as feminism is raised. A great digital media brand manager anticipates the possible reactions; both negative and positive, to his/her brand campaign and prepares accordingly to avoid being caught unawares. The Access Bank scenario is the perfect depiction of that.

In conclusion, until society realizes that feminism is not a call for female supremacy but recognition of the fact that women are every bit as strong, intelligent and independent (sometimes even more) as men, the feminist efforts will never be recognized as legitimate.


Sonia Kalu is the Head of Legal & Content Development at Evolve Synergy; a 360 Degree Digital Media Marketing and Brands Communications outfit in Lagos, Nigeria.

Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija

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