Somebody get Superwoman a cocktail

Marketelle's Jessie Sternthal implores you to stop using busy as a stand-in for successful, fulfilled and happy.

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This story appears in the October 2014 issue of strategy.

By Jessie Sternthal

“STOP THE GLORIFICATION OF BUSY,” said a hipster-y designed, Pinterest-y quote that zipped around the social feeds a few weeks ago. Its nicely art-directed typography was cushioned by hundreds of likes and dozens of shares. Mostly by women.

It’s a wonder any of them had the time to like or share it.

Because from where I’m sitting (slash typing, glancing over to see who just texted me and choking on a tamari almond), we’ve been frighteningly busy. Ever since Melanie Griffith and her shoulder pads snagged that corner office in Working Girl circa ’88 to a Carly Simon score, we’ve letttttttt the river runnnnn…us all over.

We strived for and, good for us on so many levels, became superwomen. Do-it-alls. Expert jugglers. Pilates-teaching-uber-moms-of-three-who-are-also-CFOs-and-semi-professional-non-dairy bakers. And, not surprisingly, advertisers have certainly dialed into and leveraged that. Some well, some not so well.

There’s that whirlwind woman with eight arms in a recent frozen entrée spot, a woman too frazzled to have remembered her kid in a recent automotive spot and countless other examples in recent years of women appearing to have totally, completely and fundamentally lost their minds.

And I can creatively relate.

A few years ago I wrote some quirky little spots for a national coffee brand that primarily targeted the modern, super-busy woman. And although our creative doors into her life were subtler and (I’d like to think) more surprising than the examples listed above, the spots may have won over client and agency, but they didn’t win over focus groups.

Turns out, Canadian women in both the Quebec and Ontario markets pretty much hated being represented as the superwoman – even though the women in the spots were heroes and conquerors of their busy-ness! Not victims of it. Interesting. Some members of the groups found the work “stressful” to watch. Others didn’t appreciate how “imperfect” the women’s lives seemed, while others still were down right “offended.” (But then again, most people in most focus groups are offended by even the free Doritos they’re scarfing.)

Even though almost 100% of the women exposed to the concepts found them comical and true, they rejected them. Why? Calling out how busy their lives were was simply un-aspirational. Glorifying busy, as it turns out, wasn’t a glorious idea.

But does that mean to stay away from the insight all together? Absolutely not. The latest campaign from American Express starring the untouchable Ms. Tina Fey is quite awesome. It alludes to our busy lives without crushing us with it.

And who can’t love one of my faves from a few years back for the mamas, the Fiat rap.

If done well (and if you can manage to skip research, says the creative in the room), busy can be good business. But, maybe we should take a cue from all those likes and shares, hailing an anonymous statement online to “STOP THE GLORIFICATION OF BUSY.” Because if busy-ness continues to be a stand-in word for “successful” or “fulfilled” or “happy,” then we might all be on our way to becoming a little nutso. If we haven’t already. Gotta run!

jessie_1 Jessie Sternthal is a senior writer at Marketelle.