Hershey's, We're Begging You Stop With The Cringe She-Candy

Since 1987, the U.S. has celebrated the contributions women have made to our country in one way or another. What began as Women's History Week on March 7, 1982, soon grew to include the 31 days of March in perpetuity. Five years later, March was declared National Women's History Month. But, as women's rights continue to be rolled back and challenged, the fight isn't over. However, what some see as help in the fight may really be working against us — Hershey's, we're talking to you.

The youngest egalitarians among us, Generation Z, wield a more significant influence over brands than older generations. With $360 billion in disposable income, younger consumers demand company values to align with theirs and take to social media to boycott brands when they don't. This woke generation is getting businesses to make drastic, expensive changes where others have failed in the past. 

That pressure to step up for a good cause may also be causing companies to bend a little too far to look like they're fighting the good fight. And, the beloved maker of chocolate seems to be the latest in a long string of cringe-worthy "contributions" to the cause.

Hershey's Celebrates the SHE campaign

Certain brands based on racial stereotypes, like Aunt Jemima, the black chef on the box of Cream of Wheat, and the older black gentleman on the box of Uncle Ben's, now Ben's Original, were long overdue changes. But, when companies start to conflate the significance of pastel pronouns with gender equality, we make a mockery out of the cause and give cynics an argument to dismiss us.

In 2021, Hershey's launched the eye-roll-inducing Celebrate SHE campaign, highlighting the SHE in limited edition Hershey's bars saying on their website, "there is no Hershey's without SHE." Of course, the campaign kicked off on International Women's Day. In addition to new packaging, the company poured money into a social media campaign (#CelebrateSHE) and paid celebrity spokespeople, including comedian Mindy Kaling.

The campaign is now in its third year, and its second year partnering with the non-profit Girls on the Run, which uses physical activity to bolster girls both mentally and physically in the years between third and eighth grade. In 2022 Hershey's annual revenue was $10.41 billion, a 16.14% increase from 2021. Hershey's investment in the next generation of female leaders that year amounted to a $150,000 donation to Girls on the Run and "sending along some of our Celebrate SHE bars." Given the company's historical earnings and the organization's emphasis on physical activity and running, we'd assume Girls on the Run would prefer a more significant monetary donation over chocolate bars.

Food brands' woke packaging

Hershey's isn't the only food brand reacting to the increased pressure and fear generated by this woke generation. Mars Wrigley Confectionery brand, M&M, faced backlash over its attempt to modernize female M&Ms by shaming them into forgoing go-go boots and stilettos for more comfortable shoes. Remarkably the effort to appease the masses saw right-wing pundits like Fox News's Martha MacCallum and publications like Rolling Stone magazine take the same side, calling out Mars for trying to "capture the woke zeitgeist." Don't we have something better to do than debate footwear and bad-for-you candy dyes?

After a press release announcing an upside-down, limited-edition, all-female pack of M&Ms to "celebrate women everywhere who are flipping the status quo," more bad press for the candymaker prompted M&Ms to take an "indefinite pause from the spokescandies," (via Twitter). Apparently, the spokescandies footwear decisions were polarizing. Placing that much value on what a cartoon character is wearing to "support" human rights only serves to water down our argument when we seek to be taken seriously. The only winner here is Mars, as every media outlet picked up these stories, undoubtedly selling more candy. Not every detail needs to spark a movement! Focus on the critical issues within your organization and support righteous causes with your profits.

Start with change from within the organization

While there are faults in these campaigns, companies like Hershey's are making tremendous progress in gender equality where it counts, especially compared to their counterparts. According to Pew Research, in 2020, female employees nationwide (full and part-time) earned 84% of what men earned. By those estimates, women must work an additional 42 days a year to take home the same pay as their male coworkers. During that same year, however, Hershey's closed the pay gap achieving "1:1 aggregate gender pay equity, and in 2021, 1:1 aggregate people of color (POC) pay equity for salaried employees in the U.S."

Among 300 multinational organizations, Forbes named Hershey's #1 on the list of "World's Top Female Friendly Companies" in 2021. In addition, the company's CEO, Michele Buck, is one of a few female Fortune 500 CEOs. These are the changes we want to see! Women want a seat at the table. We don't care that SHE is mint green on the new ad campaign wrappers; put your money where your mouth is. Sure, it's nice to get a piece of chocolate now and then, but we don't care what color it is. The change we're looking for requires funding, and with what seems to just be a marketing ploy to sell more chocolate, Hershey's campaign misses the mark.

Thanks for the "support" Hershey's, but we deserve better.