Ladies First -Path to Diversity

December saw us record and cut our first Sparkle TV advert. Sparkle’s mission from day one was to have a defined and clear role when it came to its position in the socio-economic space in Nigeria. Women are central to all economic endeavours in Nigeria; they are part of the solution for the engine of growth, they also define how commerce is conducted across the country. Yet the powerful role they play in fuelling commerce in our country is all too often played down or ignored.

How does this manifest itself? Well — first and foremost, of the limited products and services built to support small businesses in Nigeria, barely any are built for or targeted at women. That’s a problem, seeing as the vast majority of informal business in Nigeria is carried out by women. What’s being done to absorb them into the formal economy? Who’s helping them to formalise business essentials such as payroll, HR, inventory or taxes? These areas are generic pain points for many women in business… but pain points no-one has been solving for.

Why is this? Even a cursory glance at the product and even marketing landscape around women in business is telling; en masse, they are essentially absent from the discourse. No-one’s asking them what they need, no-one’s building market-defining products or services for them, and all too often, no-one is even acknowledging their existence, let alone their role in powering Africa’s biggest economy.

I read an interesting article about how in this here 2021, Adverts are still implying that only women clean — I was only momentarily surprised when I read it, because it just felt all too familiar. This is why in our Sparkle TVC, we were extraordinarily intentional about how we portrayed women. Women socialising, women chatting, women organising aso ebi [the traditional roles you might consider] but beyond that we also chose to show women working on construction sites, women piloting tuk tuks… taking on more traditional male roles. Basically — women are the fabric of our society — it can no longer be the case that we ignore them.

Not to the detriment of attracting men onto the platform — more a case of demonstrating how women should be better visually represented in all aspects of life. Visual representation is extremely powerful — how can you be what you cannot see? Watch the video — everyone in-shot is a woman. Why? We wanted to spark an idea in peoples’ consciousness — to be extra deliberate in showcasing what women are actually doing in the economy. We’ve never approached anything the “traditional” way at Sparkle, so we certainly weren’t going to be conventional in our first advert.

At Sparkle, we’ve always been deliberate in our own metrics; 50% of the Sparkle team is female; 70% of our user base is male, 30% female so we needed to do something dramatic to begin the journey of tipping the change and visual communication is one of the main levers of change. We want to replicate in our own business what we want to achieve in terms of building for our customer base. Whilst we have a women-inspired product that’s been built with women business owners in mind, we also know too well that it’s all about the stories you tell. Our TVC story is a celebration and recognition of women in every aspect of Nigerian life — at serious work and at serious play.

Digital is beyond bias, but visual communication is the very essence of bias. I’ve written extensively on the need to remove bias when it comes to making financial decisions about customers and using data to remove bias, to make solid decisions. With this commercial, there was certainly a point to prove — and we were unashamedly intentional about our bias towards women. I hope other brands follow suit and start to normalize portraying women in non-stereotype roles.

They say He who writes history controls the past; the Sparkle TVC is our attempt at ensuring women being written into the present allows them to control their future. It’s been important to us to put something down in visual history that we hope will effect change. I look forward to your own thoughts on our film.