‘My Despair At Father Of Daughters’ International Women’s Day Ad’

After Father of Daughters, aka Simon Hooper, partnered with insurance firm AXA for an International Women's Day advert, Alexandra Heminsley was prompted to take action.

Simon Hooper AXA ad

by Alexandra Heminsley |
Updated on

The stated aim of International Women’s Day is to celebrate women and mark a call to action for accelerating gender parity. But this year it was easy to have mistaken it for little more than a day for themed discounts and slogan T-shirts. And for me, a marketing campaign that saw AXA insurance working with Simon Hooper (aka Instagram’s Father of Daughters) was the apotheosis of a brand-led land grab for women’s attention, and wallets, which left many of us in despair at how these campaigns are put together and what responsibility they have not to steamroller over global initiatives in their own lust for profits.

I spent some time at the South Bank with my son this weekend, soaking in the atmosphere at the WOW (Women of the World) festival. It was genuinely inspiring to see so many women (and men!) gathered to discuss so many elements of their lives, from ‘Travelling with Tits’ to Queer Lives and Feminism for boys under ten. The diversity and a sense of celebration was palpable, as was the energy that we left with - knowing how to take action, how to live boldly, how to change things for the better.

So it was pretty bleak to glance at my phone on Sunday morning and see Simon Hooper fronting a message from AXA about how he wants his four daughters to feel as if they are equal and empowered. (Not that they are equal and empowered, but that they feel it.) This message to camera was accompanied by a reworked Nas track, whose lyrics tell the listener that you can be anything in the world if you work hard at it.

This sentiment seemed to be - at best - misunderstanding the very problems IWD is set up to challenge, or at worst choosing to ignore them in favour of some candy floss words that the company itself in no way embodies. It is hard to know what to do when huge brands - of which AXA and the ‘.. of Daughters’ family both are - leave their audience feeling so utterly taken for fools. Leave snippy comments online and increase their engagement? Not for me. Huff about over Sunday brunch until something else distracts you? Also, after the galvanising mood that Saturday left me in, not for me.

So I wrote to AXA, who ultimately will have given the campaign the green light, as well as giving Mr Hooper what will almost certainly have been a healthy five-figure fee. The campaign was an insult to women and to International Women's Day, not just an ineffective way to sell insurance, but an actively unhelpful campaign to have run. Not to at least try and engage on that matter would have been to feel complicit.

The first issue is that Simon Hooper is just a dad. Being present for your children is not 'raising them up', as he put it in the accompanying Instagram Stories: it is the basic requirement of parenting. Elevating a man to explain this to women on International Womens' Day felt less like feminism than being patronised, serving only to underline the point that men are held to different standards than women. Would they have asked a white person to front a Black History Month campaign? A straight person to front a Pride month campaign?

More importantly, all concerned missed the central point that self-belief is not enough. That is exactly the point of International Women's Day. The day exists to challenge both patriarchal constructs and institutional double standards - the very things holding women back no matter how mighty their self-belief.

The day exists to challenge both patriarchal constructs and institutional double standards - the very things holding women back no matter how mighty their self-belief.

I tried to persuade AXA to take a look at their own company as an example - their latest press release trumpets proudly that 32% of Senior Leader and Executive roles are held by women. They are pleased with that number? Are we really expected to believe that there are not an equal number of women at AXA who want those roles, that it’s simply their self belief that is lacking? Or is it that there is a median pay gap of 20% and a mean pay gap of 23% at Axa, which may in some way impact on ... the self esteem of the women working there?

Then, to my interest, was the use of Nas. Did they google him?! Because the domestic abuse allegations made about him seem like something that might have given pause to a family campaign about women's self esteem. I know, I know, innocent until proven guilty (and Nas has strongly denied the allegations), but even so, surely a bit of research might have yielded an artist who might not cause an instinctive flinch to the 7.9% of women per year who suffer domestic abuse. Those are government statistics again, were really easy to google. It's 1,300,000 women, 1,300,000 potential customers feeling perhaps less than empowered by AXA’s choice of campaign.

As I told them, I really do understand that it must have been a bit rough to open Instagram’s linked email address after this weekend. Comments on Mr Hooper’s post suggest his message was not received as warmly as his recent japes, and a social media intern would have needed plenty of coffee to get through this morning. Forward it straight on, I encouraged the recipient of my email, to whoever okayed this campaign. Because I find cancel culture tedious, as well as pointless, and didn’t want to add to someone else’s crappy Monday morning when there could have been some genuine engagement.

But I have heard nothing back. It would be great to hear something, either to discuss the issues the campaign raises or perhaps just with the news that they had made a donation to a women's domestic abuse charity. Until then, I’m left with little else to think than that the campaign was at best really bloody unhelpful and at worst downright grotesque.

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