The one lesson businesses should take from the Women’s Network logo bungle

women's network

The Women’s Network logo has been quietly taken down from the Prime Minister and cabinet’s (PMC) website after it was torn to shreds online for resembling a man’s appendage.

The Women’s Network is a government initiative that promotes “gender equality and supports members to succeed in their personal professional lives” but the phallic logo drew ridicule and ire when it was posted on Twitter on Sunday evening.

Not everyone saw the light side, however, with another user saying the genitalia design seemed a deliberate choice that “reeks of teenage boy mentality malevolence”, while journalist Quentin Dempster said the logo undermines the good work that goes into gender parity.

Branding expert Sally Branson agrees, saying it only “adds fuel to the fire of fury already felt across Australia”, particularly in the wake of International Women’s Day.

“There should have been many extra eyes on this logo at the very least, and says a lot about the ‘Canberra bubble’,” she says, a reference to the harassment, bullying and sexual assault rife in Australian Parliament, according to Australian Human Rights Commission’s 2021 report.

“By now, everyone should be aware there is indeed a perceived ‘women’s problem’ and this is a significant misstep,” Branson tells SmartCompany.

And it’s not the first time the government has been left red-faced over marketing missteps — readers may recall the infamous “milkshake” ad that attempted to use food-based metaphors for discussions about sexual consent, including a woman smearing a milkshake on a man’s face, and a man using a taco to explain sexual assault.

The milkshake campaign was a $3.7 million cash splash (with the taxpayer footing the bill) but was promptly pulled after government officials and consent campaigners roundly slammed the concept.

This time around, the Women’s Network rebrand was done in house, the PMC’s office confirmed to news.com.au.

“The rebrand was completed internally, using existing resources, and designs were consulted on widely. No external providers were engaged for this work,” a spokesperson says.

“The logo has been removed from the department’s website, pending consultation with staff.”

So what can other businesses learn from the Women’s Network saga? Branson says there is one simple lesson all businesses must take away from this.

“Every time you release something into the world, have a trusted group to have run their eyes over it,” she warns.

“It doesn’t have to be an external consultant — but a trusted counsel to give eyes over, and eyes on.”

Branson, who runs Sally Branson Consulting, says oftentimes clients will pour their heart and soul into something that represents their business — so “it’s worth taking the time to get it right and get some other opinions”, particularly from independent people with no skin in the game.

For instance, internal employees may spot a potential problem but may not have the confidence to openly question the leadership team’s judgement.

“It’s the old adage: you can’t see the wood for the trees, or in this case, the phallic symbol through the colours of the suffragettes,” Branson continues.

It’s a good thing the Prime Minister and Cabinet office pulled the logo rather than battle through the backlash, she says, but it won’t stop our Instagram feeds from showing the many memes, nor the group chat messages from incensed Australian women who feel they are the butt of the joke — again.

“They say all publicity is good publicity but it is hard to see who this is good for? Maybe only for the meme makers who have transposed the logo onto the prime minister’s head,” Branson says.

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