Does Sex Really Sell in Mining?

 

I’ve been working with mining companies for years as a communications consultant.

And, I’ve met some amazing leaders. Many of them women.

They are engineers, geologists, lawyers, communicators and executives.

They are employed by — and leading — companies that are 21st century progressive.

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Source: Vale “HomeSafe” video

And, then there are other companies….the minority….the ones that still seem to subscribe to older ways of doing things.

They amazingly have the ability to set back advancements women have made in the mining sector by about 40 years.

And, it can sometimes only take 1 minute to do it.

Below are some screen captures from a video that illustrates this. The company, KWG Resources, deleted the original controversial video — I can only assume after it realized it wasn’t resonating. I downloaded it while it was in the public domain assuming this would inevitably happen — and knowing this is a great learning moment for marketers and company executives. The video is about the Ring of Fire Mineral Deposit — a very serious matter with some serious issues facing it. This company had this video produced by two bikini-clad young women (who were actually in the rich Muskoka region for filming — more than 1,500 km from the Ring of Fire).

It’s a video that is inexplicable — and I’m not even talking about the production value.

How in 2016 is something like this even approved corporately?

So, here’s the story. A junior mining company decides it wants some attention.

It’s doing business in what’s called “The Ring of Fire” — one of the richest undeveloped chromite ore bodies in the world — a complex region with complex environmental and First Nations issues.

The company is KWG Resources — led by Frank Smeenk. The guy below.

He apparently approved the video.

KWG-President

Smeenk declared in the media that “sex sells”…and the video had the following purpose:

“…to reach a whole generation that doesn’t know anything about what we do here on Bay Street…This young lady, as an actress has 70,000-odd followers on Twitter, that’s a bigger audience, and as an old guy I’m trying to reach that younger audience…”

So, to recap — according to the CEO — the people KWG wants investing in its company are the people sitting around on Twitter all day, taking stock advice from bikini-clad social media personalities? Interesting approach.

The whole scenario was really only missing him sitting in a leather chair, smoking a cigarette and drinking a scotch while yelling to a secretary to “hold all calls”.

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AMC’s “Mad Men”

Karen Schulman Dupuis is a technologist, educator and social media marketing expert and a specialist in business design. She works with big, progressive companies.

I reached out to her when I saw this story and asked for her thoughts:

“I would use this in my Introduction to Social Media Marketing course as a case study in how to fail at marketing in every possible way. From relevance to production value (Crocs!), this is an almost laughable exercise in uselessness, and I would be laughing if it weren’t so infuriating and disappointing on so many fronts. That’s just a deconstruction of all that’s wrong with this from a social media marketing perspective, which says nothing about the repugnant, archaic, Mad Men-era thinking that “sex sells”. It’s an affront to every woman that I know that is professional in this field and deals with overt sexism every working day of their lives.”

Schulman Dupuis continues in her deconstruction — pointing out that beyond the marketing qualities of the video — there is a broader problem she has with it as it pertains to some of the serious issues it flirts with — like First Nations.

“More troubling is the use of women in such a derogatory, objective way and pulling First Nations into the foray in the same breath when the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has recently been announced. Tone deaf, is a gross understatement.”

Saying sex sells in advertising is such a broad an uneducated perspective on marketing that it’s ridiculously laughable.

Indeed and unfortunately, sex can sell. For the most part, it sells products and services like food, nightclubs, cosmetics, cars, music or online dating sites. In its most broadest and liberal form, you could say it can sell retail items.

But, sex sells mining? Uh, no.

Joseph Mansourian runs a creative agency called OvertheAtlantic — an organization I’ve worked with to help mining companies tell a modern and progressive story.

This was his take on the campaign at issue:

“I cringed, as I immediately thought of how this goes against the grain of the new messaging being put out there to attract women to the industry. They’re saying they wanted to create buzz and that they did this to garner attention. I don’t buy it. I think this was just a bad idea that got approved. They just went with it not thinking about the implications. It’s the product of being too hyper creative. There’s just no place for this sort of style in any professional industry. You’re not selling Mountain Dew to horny 17 year olds.”

I doubt this was the attention the mining company wanted.

Consider this from a reputational perspective. The media exposure surrounding this issue will show up high on Google search results forever — likely having a negative impact on recruiting both serious women and men candidates who, at best, would question the judgment of leadership. The impact this could have on serious investors and government regulators remains to be seen.

What the objective was and what audience the CEO was trying to reach specifically should make for some interesting conversation at the next Board meeting.

But, I will tell you this — KWG is not alone…this isn’t a one-off.

pdac-convention-2009

I’ve attending a number of mining conferences — huge ones in both Las Vegas and Toronto. And, the number of primarily junior mining companies that have hired “brand ambassadors” who are young women wearing revealing clothes is beyond belief.

They run trade show booths, they walk around handing out free tickets to open-bar receptions — and then they work the room at the actual reception.

I had one junior mining client years ago who sat frustrated at a conference with maps and geological documents — while all the primarily white older men lined up five-deep at the booths hosted by the attractive women with no mining background.

Again — I repeat — the major mining companies don’t do this — it’s primarily the small junior companies and supply and service sector trying to attract ANY and ALL attention.

Let’s be clear about this — this form of marketing is lazy. And, it has to stop if the mining industry is going to fully move forward into the 21st century.

“This not only undermines and devalues the work of social media marketing professional women, but it further harms the mining industry, and will make any professional women hesitate about working with others in the field. This is precisely when industry leaders need to stand up and strongly oppose this kind of messaging from their membership and colleagues and lead the way with education and resources to actually inform these companies how to properly market themselves, their opportunities and their issues.” ~Karen Schulman Dupuis

The fact is most major companies have already moved forward a long time ago. They are leading. Yet, something like this gets a lot of media attention and, rightly or wrongly, does incredible damage to the brand of an entire industry. It makes everyone look bad.

If you want to learn more about the real progress that’s been made — click and read about Women In Mining Canada — it does incredible work as a not-for-profit organization focused on advancing the interests of women in the mining sector.

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Photo Credit: James Hodgins

In mining, sex does not sell.

What sells is credibility, dedicated professionalism and progress.

But, look — if Frank Smeenk truly believes that passionately that ‘sex sells’, maybe HE should slip on a bikini and short shorts, sit on the dock and talk into the camera about corporate responsibility.

That’s putting your mouth where your money is.


**UPDATE**:

The response from the industry has been overwhelming. The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada, the Mining Association of Canada and the Canadian Mining Journal have also come out blasting the mining company and the marketer.

There have been some deafening silences, however. Maybe I’ve missed it, but I have yet to see any Federal or Provincial politicians speak out against this. And, the Ontario Mining Association — of which KWG is a member — hasn’t said a thing.

Karen Schulman Dupuis commented earlier on how the video seemed highly disrespectful to some of the challenging issues facing First Nations.

Today, her comments were echoed in the media by First Nations lawyer Pam Palmater, the Chair of Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto.

“The video is a very damning statement about KWG Resources to sexualize women to promote mining for profit on Indigenous lands…I hope that the national inquiry on murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls takes a close look at the correlation between sexualized violence and mining/oil and extractive industry camps.”

In getting comments from Schulman Dupuis, I originally edited some of her text for both length and impact. They were great comments and have reconsidered given I’m dong an update — and feel what she says is very relevant.

“Sadly, this is typical of corporate leaders that have zero experience with social media or digital marketing, and because of that ignorance, get misled by spokesmodels that have a Twitter following who tell them that their audience is a relevant outlet for their businesses. This is a Marketing 101 failure of epic proportions. People like this think that you can do some spray and pray approach to online marketing. It doesn’t work in traditional settings, and it certainly doesn’t work here either.” ~Karen Schulman Dupuis

Finally, KWG isn’t bending or apologizing. Not even close.

The KWG Twitter account is tweeting boastfully all the negative media coverage — owning like a badge of honour. This is a penny stock that trades at 3-cents per share.

Despite the stories, despite the industry associations condemning them, the CEO continues to defend the video, telling CBC today:

“Attractive women attract eyes.”

~KWG Resources CEO Frank Smeenk

There is simply no place for this in business, period.

UPDATE: As noted at the top of the blog, the company has quietly removed the video more than a month after posting it.