Pink IPA and the commodification of activism

WIth brands from Pepsi to Dior commodifying activism, Anusmita Ray takes a deeper look at the new commercial trend

On International Women’s Day, Scottish brewer BrewDog launched Pink IPA, a beer targeted towards raising debates on sexist marketing and the gender pay gap. The beer, which bears a pink label, is the same as the popular blue-labelled Punk IPA, but it will retail at a 20% lower price to all who identify as women.

The company’s website points out the existing gender pay gap in all countries and vows to donate 20% of the proceeds from Pink IPA to charities that aim to aid women and gender inequality related causes. The marketing has received mixed feedback from the public. Some have found the campaign to be badly advertised, while others have appreciated the effort taken by the company to address the pay gap issues, and the inherent sexism that is associated with drinking beer in general.

This is not the first time that a company has tried to cash in on serious causes and turn them into marketing strategies that, while making a meagre financial contribution to the cause in concern, end up making a mockery out of matters of genuine concern.

“The wealthy and powerful are using a movement that champions equality to make products that only they can afford”

For instance, Dior has a white t-shirt made of cotton and linen with the slogan “We Should All Be Feminists” (inspired by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s essay of the same name) that retails for an astounding £490. An undisclosed percentage of the proceeds collected from the sales are donated to the Clara Lionel Foundation, Rihanna’s non-profit organisation.

The sentiment behind creating the t-shirt might be applaudable; indeed, the designer behind the clothing might have had genuinely good intentions. However, the way the marketing has been carried, after social media users demonstrated their enthusiastic support towards the t-shirt, does invite scepticism.

At least BrewDog, while clearly trying to cash in on the female market with its Pink IPA (as of 2016, only 25% of craft beer drinkers in the USA are women), have made their numbers quite transparent. Dior has done no such thing and has proceeded to sell the t-shirt at an exorbitant price.

“Feminism in pop culture is incredibly important, but uprooting the unfairness of the existing system should be the focus of it”

The social media-led advertising aided by Rihanna’s personal seal of approval has ensured impressive sales for the product; however, there’s still no mention of the amount that was donated from the proceeds collected. The price tag, of course, excludes most people from being able to contribute, no matter what the contribution is. The entire agenda is counter-intuitive, a celebrity endorsement for the rich and targeted towards the rich while using the rest of us as their “cause” generated for their convenience.

That the wealthy and the powerful are using a movement that champions equality to make products that only they can afford is an irony that hardly needs to be pointed out.

In a world tightly caught within the claws of capitalism, one requires childlike naivety to believe that marketing that seems to rely on activism comes from a sense of duty or support for the cause, rather than being a mere business plan sketched out after carrying out risk analysis tests. It may be argued that companies will always aim to generate profits, but that can surely be executed without capitalising on activism as and when it is convenient to do so.

These issues are not matters to be taken lightly, nor should they be opportunities for celebrities and big corporations to use for their selfish motives, to appear more “woke” on their social media accounts, so that they can garner a favourable public perception of themselves.

And yet in the past few years, marketplace empowerment has taken the centre stage. The hip feminism of today is sold to us as an attitude, an identity led by mere words. However, the movement does feel strangely depoliticised when it is reduced to just the word “feminism” on a pair of granny pants.

Feminism in pop culture is incredibly important and relevant, but uprooting the unfairness of the existing system and ensuring that proper legal changes regarding equal rights or equal pay are made should be the focus of it. It should not be some individual or some company increasing their clout for being trendy, with their conveniently marketed activism.

Anusmita Ray

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Image courtesy of Paul Hayday on Flickr


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