woman dressed in workout clothing holding secret deodorant
Secret asked women what makes them sweat in today's society, expecting to hear feedback about perspiring and physical activity. The responses, however, went much deeper. — Secret

Secret asked 40 women what made them sweat. Their responses were unexpected.

Turns out the psychic burden of gender and pay inequality, rather than underarm stains, were a leading source of “mental sweat,” associate brand director Sara Saunders told CO—. “It was surprising to us,” she said.

That these women from Cincinnati, New York and Philadelphia chose to answer the question figuratively rather than literally reflects a changing socioeconomic landscape where women are increasingly the breadwinners in U.S. households, just as stubborn gender inequalities persist.

That very tension informs Secret’s newest “All Strength, No Sweat” branding campaign, designed to serve as a “rallying cry” for women, urging them to embrace their power and claim what they deserve in life, Saunders said.

The video campaign, which launched in January and will air nationally throughout the year, comes as the Procter & Gamble deodorant brand amplifies its messaging around women’s equality as consumers increasingly vote with their dollars for companies that reflect their values and sensibilities.

 two women dressed up as football players
Part of Secret’s marketing campaign is to tell the stories of women that highlight female strength and push for equal opportunities in traditionally male-dominated spaces. — Secret

Today, “70% of consumers expect brands to take a stand publicly,” Saunders said. And increasingly, brand-purpose-driven marketing is not just about doing good, but about doing well. More and more, those efforts are linked to shopper loyalty and a company’s bottom line — and Secret is no exception.

“In the war for sales and market share, consumer brands must find their authentic purpose to differentiate themselves and create a compelling reason for purchase,” said Carol Cone, CEO of Carole Cone on Purpose, a consultancy that helps brands like P&G and Unilever to Southwest airlines hone their purpose-driven strategies. “Think of well-activated brand purpose as building brand love,” she said.

Secret’s new TV spots and video shorts showcase women in business, entertainment and sports, such as actress/entrepreneur Shanae Grimes-Beech and Olympic Gold medalist Swin Cash, who have bucked the status quo in their respective fields, without sweating the roadblocks dotting their path.

P&G has been big on embedding purpose into its brands, Cone told CO—, noting its now iconic #LikeAGirl, self-confidence-building Always campaign for adolescent girls, and new Treo razors designed for caregivers.

We were surprised to hear that a lot of the underpinnings that made women sweat had to do with inequality.

Sara Saunders, associate brand director, Secret

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Secret’s All Strength, No Sweat push follows marketing initiatives that position the brand as an ally in the fight for women’s equality and equal representation. Its Women-Owned Wednesdays holiday push called on shoppers to support businesses owned and operated by women, with a shoppable video, whereby viewers purchased from Cincinnati-based women-owned businesses. And in a bid to create more music opportunities for women who make up just 17% of the industry’s artists, Secret has pledged to feature music exclusively made by women in all future marketing campaigns, beginning this year.

It's one facet of P&G’s broader “citizenship platform,” which includes diversity initiatives such as shining a light on racial bias with films like The Look, to community impact work like its Children’s Safe Drinking Water Program. While the platform is about being a “force for good,” it also drives growth, CEO David S. Taylor says in the company’s 2019 Citizenship Report.

Inequality ‘makes women sweat’

When Secret asked a cross section of 40 females, “What makes women sweat in today’s society?” it expected feedback about perspiring and physical activity, and to elicit comments like, “‘I want to smell good; I don’t want to have pit stains; I don’t want anything to give away that I’m not confident,” Saunders said.

Instead, “We were surprised to hear that a lot of the underpinnings that made women sweat had to do with inequality.”

It became clear that their answers weren’t so surprising after all. Women in the U.S. won’t gain parity with men for another 208 years, she said, citing projections from the World Economic Forum.

For Secret, the responses unearthed rich insights about what strength means to women and what stands in the way of progress for them, Saunders said. “These findings helped Secret identify opportunities that can drive — and have driven — meaningful change.”

For one, Secret discovered that women, who only entered the workforce in critical mass in the ‘80s, are now navigating the profound stresses of the “breadwinner effect.”

Women today are the breadwinners in an estimated 49% of U.S. households, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. (That number soars to 80% among African American mothers, Saunders said.)

These women, their anecdotes revealed, are supporting children and families, often working double shifts and long hours, all while having to overcompensate for gender and pay inequities, she said. “Secret is trying to make sure that we showcase the variety of things women are facing in all walks of life to make sure that we are not myopic.”

 sara saunders headshot
Sara Saunders, associate brand director, Secret. — Secret

To that end, Secret’s video campaign tells the stories of women whose personal and professional journeys are a nod to female strength, forge traditionally male-dominated spaces and reflect an unapologetic push for equal representation, compensation and opportunities.

It spotlights the stories of women like Cash, who made the leap from WNBA player and Olympic gold medalist to businesswoman, as the current vice president of basketball operations for the New Orleans Pelicans.

Some of their stories come unvarnished. Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Jessie Reyez, who wrote and performed Secret’s new anthem, shares her story of sexual assault, while fitness guru Ainsley Rodriguez discusses her battles with weight issues growing up. Both women hope sharing their stories will help other women, Saunders said.

All told, the campaign imparts a narrative of overcoming hurdles and “unleashing ourselves of the mental sweat, which is what allows us to go further,” she said.

The authenticity factor in the ‘super crowded’ deodorant space

In addition to flexing its brand-purpose bona fides, Secret’s gender-equity push grants the company a point of differentiation in the “super crowded” deodorant market with a finite audience, Saunders said.

And while that market reflects $3 billion in U.S. sales, according to Nielsen figures provided to CO—, “There aren’t a lot of armpits coming about, she said. “It’s our way to own the space.”

Purpose-driven marketing isn’t necessarily a slam-dunk for brands. These campaigns must manage to evoke that critical-yet-ineffable quality of authenticity to pass muster with consumers, experts say.

More than four in 10 U.S. consumers say that brands are trying too hard to appear as if they care about anything beyond sales, a bigger share than those who say companies’ moves to tout their cause-driven efforts strike a resonant chord, according to polling by PR Week/Morning Consult.

“There is no magical metric for return on investment on purpose brands,” Cone said.

Secret would not disclose just how the All Strength, No Sweat campaign — which first launched in 2019 — and its women’s equality initiatives are impacting the brand’s top and bottom line.

However, Saunders said, “We know from consumer feedback and product sales that the actions we take matter to women. They’re looking for brands to support [their concerns] and they’re supporting Secret in return,” she said. “We feel confident enough in the response to continue it in bold ways.”

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Published February 19, 2020