Equal Pay Day is over, but the activations aren't

Y&R San Juan has big plans for the future of the AAUW pay-equity campaign

As the fanfare around Equal Pay Day dies down for another year, women continue to earn less than men performing the same jobs. To keep the conversation going, Y&R Puerto Rico is planning a series of activations to support its Gender Pay Gap campaign for the American Association of University Women, a non-profit that has been advocating for equal opportunities for women for more than 130 years.

A 60-second spot that debuted Tuesday succinctly illustrates the wage disparity. Two news anchors relay the latest headlines, but three-quarters of the way through the broadcast, the male anchor signs off and leaves the studio as his female counterpart continues with her work.

Currently, the TV ad and a radio version are running in Puerto Rico and online, and the agency expects the nonprofit work will be picked up shortly by national broadcasters. But Y&R San Juan is also preparing events it hopes have enough viral potential to renew interest in the pay gap issue even weeks or months later. "It has to be a continued effort," said Gerardo Vazquez, associate creative director at Y&R San Juan. "It has to go beyond that day, otherwise it’s just another day on the calendar."

A real-life version of the ad will take place on a live national newscast, possibly ABC or CBS, according to Vazquez. The details are still being worked out, because the selected broadcaster needs to have an equal pay policy in place lest the point be undermined by hypocrisy.

The agency is also planning a live stunt called "Unfair Change" that will distribute fake currency with portraits of women as change after cash purchases. "If there was a woman on a dollar bill, how much would it really be worth?" Vazquez asked. Hidden cameras will record footage for a content video.

While the campaign debuted on Equal Pay Day, that name is a misnomer – there are multiple Equal Pay Days spread throughout the year. Latino women, for example, make an average of 54% of the pay white men receive, so they must work until Nov. 1 to earn the same pay. African American women must work until Aug. 23. "Beginning in March all the way through to November, as these dates come up we’re recognizing them and trying to push that message out," said Ryan Burwinkel, senior program associate at AAUW.

It was the Y&R San Juan creative team’s interest in the pay equality issue that led them to AAUW. "We teamed up with our sister agency, Bravo Miami, and reached out to them. They loved the idea, and it was perfect for them since they have the same passion for the issue," Vazquez said.

To combat widespread complacency among the general population, the team decided on a direct approach to the topic. "The challenge was to make people realize that, no matter how common this is, it’s not normal and it’s not okay — to make them uncomfortable about the facts," Vazquez said.

Given the wide audience, the message also needed to be simple and visceral. "This issue tends to be very wonky, and we kind of sometimes step on ourselves in explaining it," said Cordy Galligan, vice president of marketing and business development at AAUW. "The Y&R piece explains it so that anyone who happens to catch it, gets it."

But viewers already familiar with the issue and who follow developments in the news are treated to a few Easter Eggs. The first headline on the broadcast involves partisan gridlock, which prevented the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act the first time it was introduced in Congress, before finally passing in 2009. The Equal Rights Amendment has languished in legislative limbo since the 1920s.

The next headline mentions the US Women’s National Soccer team. Last week, five members of the team filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seeking pay equal to that of the US men’s team. "It would be awesome to do something with them to amplify our message," Vazquez said.

Players on the women’s team receive salaries and bonus pay as low as one-quarter of the men’s pay, despite drawing similar crowds and a better record on the field — winning three Olympic Gold medals in a row and a second World Cup trophy last year.

Y&R San Juan also selected an actor to play the female anchor who had firsthand experience with pay discrimination. "During casting sessions she said she really wanted to do the part because years ago she was let go from her job because she suggested to her boss that her salary should have been similar to her male counterpart," Vazquez said. "She didn’t suggest it should be the same — just similar — and she suffered the consequences."

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