The Important Message Behind ‘So Many Dicks’


In an age when marketers are desperately fighting for our attention on Instagram, TikTok, streaming services and anywhere else they can place an ad, it’s only the really good or really bad campaigns that stick out.

In the last week or so, a few stand out for me. Let’s start with the bad: I — along with thousands of others — was so put off by dating app Bumble’s proclamation that a “a vow of celibacy is not the answer.” Telling women what to do with their sex lives is never a good idea; the company was in the process of taking down the billboards as of Monday.

Now the good: Maybe that’s why I was so pleasantly surprised by E.l.f.’s “So Many Dicks” boardroom campaign that surfaced that same day.

In the ad, which appeared on Instagram and across billboards in the Oculus in New York, E.l.f. showcased rows upon rows of homogenous white, male faces with the taglines “So many Dicks … So few of everyone else.” The campaign was a nod to a study E.l.f. conducted with the advertising agency Oberland earlier this year that found that men named Richard, Rich, Rick, or Dick (the “Dicks” mentioned in the campaign) far outnumbered women and diverse groups on corporate boards.

An infographic about the lack of diversity on boards.
E.l.f Beauty’s recent diversity campaign. (E.l.f Beauty)

The message was clear: corporate boards do not reflect the world we live in, or these companies’ own customers.

The average corporate boardroom in the US is 88 percent white and 27 percent women.

It’s hard to get consumers excited about purpose-driven initiatives these days, whether it’s diversity efforts, sustainability or equal pay. What tracks for me about this moment is that E.l.f. has always been an inclusive, diverse and community-driven businesss. Today, its workforce of nearly 500 is 75 percent women, over 40 percent are Black, Indigenous, people of colour and 65 percent are Gen-Z and Millennials, according to the company. For E.l.f., getting consumers to care about its internal values doesn’t feel like a gimmick.

As I’ve gotten to know Tarang Amin, E.l.f. Beauty chairman and chief executive, and his team over the last several years, they’ve extolled the importance of having “one team, one dream.” It’s what Amin credits as E.l.f.’s greatest power and why the company has experienced 20 consecutive quarters of sales growth (the company reports earnings next week).

“More diversity at the board of directors level helps companies better reflect the communities they serve – and that can lead to profitability for everyone,” he said, noting the campaign was not an effort to pat themselves on the back, but instead urge others to make change. “We’re championing this inclusivity because it works: our own board has helped to drive our consistent, category-leading results over the last five years.”

E.l.f.’s board is two-thirds women and one-third diverse, making it one of only four companies out of 4,200 publicly-traded firms that has this kind of mix (Knightscope, BowFlex and Victoria’s Secret are the other three).

Though corporate boards have become more diverse over the past decade, many companies are backsliding. According to a November report from The Conference Board and ESGAUGE, of directors appointed last year, 38 percent were female, compared to 43 percent the year prior. Appointees, who were racially and ethnically diverse people, fell to 36 percent, from 45 percent in 2022.

E.l.f.’s “Dicks” campaign went beyond the viral ad. The company also released a database where consumers can research public companies and find their board make-ups (including fellow beauty companies that have some serious work to do); and an accelerator initiative, where E.l.f. is mentoring and training 20 female and diverse board-ready candidates with the National Association of Corporate Directors.

“Calling something out without also putting in place methods and solutions to impact the change is never going to work,” said Kyle Rudy, senior partner at executive search firm Kirk Palmer Associates, who added that the criteria for a great board is a mix of accomplished executives, differing functional or category experiences and diversified perspectives that can make decisions without blindspots.

That last part is key since the single biggest barrier to diversify for profit boards is the requirement of prior experience on another board. This ultimately has created an echo chamber or fraternity among traditional, white male candidate pools of only referring people that they know or have worked with before.

“Of course, 20 years of experience matters and deep functional expertise in a sector, but we need to prioritise gender, racial and age differences,” said global brand advisor, Rebecca Robins.

As we think about what the future can look like, we need to hardwire our brains to throw the old playbooks out the window. E.l.f’s campaign is certainly a start. But if companies are serious about diversifying board rooms, they need to eliminate the prior for profit board experience as a must have.

Ultimately, if the system isn’t fair, we need to change the system.

P.S. Join us to reimagine the beauty and wellness landscape at The Business of Beauty Global Forum 2024. Learn from speakers including Gisele Bündchen, Heela Yang, Deepak Chopra and many more. Register for the global livestream.

Here are my top picks from our insight and analysis on beauty and wellness this week:

1. The Start-Ups Turning Ozempic Into the Next Botox

Ozempic.
(BoF Team)

From medspas to telemedicine, weight-loss drugs are becoming adopted for mainstream cosmetic use.

2. How Gen X Became Beauty’s Next Big Consumer

A model holding a cream above her head
(Beautystat)

Mature consumers have long been ignored by the beauty industry. Now a small but growing number of emerging brands are responding to the needs of those over the age of 45 in a bid to cash in on their $15 trillion spending power.

3. DSM-Firmenich Unveils New ‘Mind Nose Matter’ Olfactory Exhibition

Perfumes on a shelf
(DSM-Firmenich)

The showcase translated the company’s global insights consumer study into scent profiles, technologies and fragrances.

THE BUSINESS OF BEAUTY NEWS IN BRIEF

Walgreens contacts potential buyers for Boots drugstore chain. A sale would undo a blockbuster transatlantic merger that took place in stages beginning more than a decade ago. The company’s stock jumped 7.2 percent to $18.43 following the news.

Natura’s losses rise to $181 million but margins grow. Natura’s first-quarter net revenue dropped 5.7 percent year-on-year to 6.1 billion reais ($1.18 billion). Adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortisation rose 4.1 percent to 682.8 million reais, bringing the closely watched EBITDA margin up 110 basis points to 11.2 percent.

P&G to downplay corporate name in Olympic ads. The consumer goods giant plans to focus on promoting individual brands rather than its overall corporate values. Procter & Gamble has reduced its spending on Olympics advertising in the United States by 50 percent over the last several games.

Fendi launches fine fragrance collection. The seven-piece range will be available in boutiques and the brand’s e-commerce site from June 20, with each scent priced at $330. The scents are inspired by different members of the Fendi family, as well as by Kim Jones, the fashion house’s artistic director.

Jo Malone London announce Tom Hardy as ambassador. The Estée Lauder-owned premium fragrance house has signed a two-year deal with the actor. This change in approach is part of a wider strategy to win over more male customers.

Pattern Beauty names Tiffani Carter chief marketing officer. Carter joins Pattern Beauty from makeup artist Danessa Myricks’ namesake cosmetics label, where she was CMO. Previously, she held roles at Shiseido’s Americas and Coty Inc.



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