Pirelli Says Behind Every Great Tire Brand is a Great Woman – is the Brand Finally Catching Up with Culture or Leading it?

December 8, 2015 — Christina Papale

The New York Times headline was bold, “The 2016 Pirelli Calendar May Signal a Cultural Shift.” The piece went on to say that the Pirelli brand, a strong supporter and champion of the quintessential male gaze, had taken a radical departure for the 2016 calendar by featuring whole women of accomplishment vs. pieces of female endowment. Brought to you by Annie Leibovitz.

As a woman, there’s a lot I could say regarding this departure. As a brand strategist, I am interested in Pirelli’s brand message and behavior, and what that says about the brand and about us.

In releasing this calendar, it appears that Pirelli is a brand transformed. The New York Times piece presents this transformation in the form of commitment and responsibility. Yet Pirelli, and a few subjects of the calendar, do not necessarily agree. Both Mellody Hobson and Agnes Gund made it clear in The Times article that, “their relationship was with Ms. Leibovitz, not Pirelli.” And Artist Shirin Neshat said, “I didn’t feel like I was selling out by doing this as much as helping Annie support a new idea about female style and beauty.”

The piece also presents Pirelli’s perspective:

“The company itself is careful to say the about-face was Ms. Leibovitz’s idea, and to paint the current calendar as part of a continuum, as opposed to a rejection of its former ways, thus leaving the door open for another switcheroo. Indeed, Marco Tronchetti Provera, the Pirelli chairman and chief executive, said that the pivot is simply another example of the way the calendar “reflects contemporary society.”

What this tells me is that the Pirelli brand is comfortable reflecting contemporary society, and will potentially keep this current perspective as long as contemporary society chooses to represent what seems to be a modern view of women. It also tells me that the brand is uncomfortable taking on the role of leading any societal charge, or shaping how our culture transforms our view of women.

I wonder if Pirelli, the cultural opportunist brand, even realized how seriously the message would reflect their brand. It could be assumed, without Ms. Leibovitz at the helm, Pirelli would have been happy to launch another artistic T&A pinup calendar. It’s as if the brand quite accidentally became a beacon of feminism, ironically presenting calendar subjects who are proof that first, second, and third wave feminism movements have taken a stronghold in our culture.

So perhaps by showing us this calendar, Pirelli is quite accidentally letting us know that we are on the cusp of a cultural shift into a final wave, where we no longer see the large gap in gender realities, where gender and feminism as we know it dissolves, and we are all seen as human beings making independent choices and having accomplishments and failures. Where brands simply speak to people.

In 1949, Simone de Beauvoir, the French philosopher stated, “…humanity is male and man defines woman not in relation to herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.” Today, the Pirelli brand, in showing us this calendar, has taken a huge leap from a 20th century feminist perspective to a place where humanity is relative not to man, but to our culture.

The brand is indeed signaling something. But we shouldn’t expect anything more from them. The Pirelli brand will be happy to signal something else if we—as a culture—let it.

Photo courtesy of New York Times

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