This content is from: Portfolio

How a ‘Fearless Girl’ Went Viral

State Street Global Advisors used a savvy social media campaign to call attention to its “Fearless Girl” campaign — and its SHE ETF product.

  • Julie Segal

The now-famous “Fearless Girl” statue — a bronze sculpture of a defiant schoolgirl, her hands on her hips and a feisty expression on her face, staring down Wall Street’s iconic charging bull sculpture — emerged from an extremely unlikely place. What’s even more intriguing is how she went viral.

“Fearless Girl” is the brainchild of State Street Global Advisors, a normally conservative asset manager that conceived of the statue to call attention to its campaign urging more than 3,500 public companies to increase the number of women on their corporate boards. Of course, there’s a marketing component: The statue’s installation also marked the first anniversary of SSGA’s ETF composed of companies that have strong female representation in their senior leadership and on their boards, which trades under the ticker symbol SHE. It is meant to capitalize on research showing that gender-diverse companies outperform their more male-dominated peers. (A portion of the ETF’s revenues are channeled into a donor-advised fund that supports science, technology, engineering, and math education, as well as other educational efforts, for girls in kindergarten through high school.)

The immediate global reaction to the statue surprised even the people behind it. That outcome was the result of a carefully orchestrated social media campaign that proved far more successful than SSGA had envisioned.

Lisa Natalicchio, global head of digital content and strategy for SSGA, says the firm itself used only Twitter and LinkedIn to get information out about the campaign. SSGA felt more comfortable with these platforms and has established audiences with each. But the firm hoped people would share the photos of “Fearless Girl” on other platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat. And share they did.

“We thought ‘Fearless Girl’ could go viral and thought about what we would need to do to make the stars align,” Natalicchio says.

She believes “Fearless Girl” took off in part because the firm genuinely focused on a relevant issue — the value of gender diversity in public companies — that was broader than any one SSGA product. Among the celebrities who shared “Fearless Girl” on social media were Arianna Huffington, Chelsea Clinton, and Jessica Chastain. Anne McNally, head of public relations for SSGA, says the firm’s job is done. “It’s in the zeitgeist now,” she says of the statue.

That’s partly down to clever timing. Advertising agency McCann New York and SSGA delivered the statue in the middle of the night, so pedestrians would be greeted with “Fearless Girl” on March 7, a day before International Women’s Day on Wednesday. The relevant hashtag, #FearlessGirl, was used to link the two on social media.

“We needed something that feels authentic for us to be talking about,” Natalicchio says. “Then we crafted it for social, asked what the boundaries were, what content we could provide that people could share, retweet, like, or favorite. Honestly, we also went outside our comfort zone.”

SSGA also had to ensure that its own messages were within the bounds of Securities and Exchange Commission and FINRA regulations. As a result, SSGA talked very little about SHE in the campaign.

“Fearless Girl” has also attracted a reverent fan base that is now asking New York Mayor Bill de Blasio to grant the work permanent residency status in the city. SSGA originally had a one-week permit from the city to place the statue across from the bull, perhaps the image most associated with Wall Street. The permit has since been extended to the end of March, but many want “Fearless Girl” to stick around much longer: A Change.org petition to allow the work to permanently reside in downtown Manhattan’s Bowling Green Park had garnered more than 22,000 signatures as of March 17.

Lynn Blake, chief investment officer of global equity beta solutions at SSGA, says the firm is “hopeful” about the petition, emphasizing that it’s an effort independent of SSGA.

SSGA could have put “Fearless Girl” anywhere in New York, but having her face down the charging bull was not accidental. “He’s masculine. It’s an intimidating symbol. And the location is associated with men,” Blake says.

One of Blake’s favorite images has been a photo of a group of elementary-school-age girls posing with “Fearless Girl” in the exact same stance.

“Fearless Girl” has been a huge success for SSGA. But like any high-profile campaign, it has attracted some negative attention. A man in a suit was photographed thrusting his hips into the statue, a picture that also went viral on social media. Blake says, “That’s why ‘Fearless Girl’ is where she needs to be: Wall Street, known for its bias. That type of misogynistic behavior needs to be broken.”