You’re not a princess. Guess what, neither is your daughter.Do you treat her like one? Do you give her everything she wants? Does she ever fail or do you pick up the pieces for her? Have you created such a large safety net that she will never have to pick herself up? Is she waiting for someone to come and save her? Who is that someone? Are we waiting for Prince Charming to come in on his white horse and rescue us?
Take a look at this picture:
These are the Disney princesses dressed as the princes who “saved” them. As women, we all know this scenario does not exist in real life, so why perpetuate the fantasy? Instead, why not not tell our girls straight out when they are young, when it counts, that the truth is that you save yourself. Nobody can do it for you.
Recently, Mercy Academy did exactly that:
When I saw this ad campaign from Mercy Academy, it really resonated with me. I did a fist pump, and I’m not kidding. I showed it to my two daughters and their friends, all ages 10-13, and asked what they thought of this idea and what it meant to them. Their answers were interesting. One girls said,”Well, boys are stupid and girls rule the world.” Another said,”girl power.” And still another said, “Then why do girls act so stupid to get guys?” I asked if it made them want to go to school at Mercy Academy and about half said they would. The other half said it didn’t matter where you went to school, but that your attitude did matter. They all told me what they wanted to be when they grew up. Those plans all involved marriage, family and careers, but mainly, the fulfillment of a dream for themselves.
I love that the conversation has started at this age. All schools tout their education,their sports, their extra-curriculars. This advertisement went beyond that. This promised something beyond the high school years. This promises an attitude, gumption and a resolve that transcends education. By modelling behavior in high school, you can prepare your student for life. Real life beyond the fairytale.
This ad campaign sends a great message on so many different levels. So exactly how did it come about? What was the motivation? Why did a small Catholic school hire Doe Anderson, one of the most distinguished ad agencies in town?
I tracked down Amy Elstone, principal of Mercy Academy and she was kind enough to answer all of my questions:
Amy Elstone, Principal,Mercy Academy
Did you go to an all-girls school growing up?
I attended a co-ed, private high school (that has since closed) my first two years of high school. That all changed when I was fifteen. I sat as a visitor at a Mercy basketball game. Instead of watching the game, I was captivated by the Mercy girls in the stands. They smiled and laughed, and they connected with one another in a most sincere way. I wanted to know what it was that brought them together. I was lonely as I left the game, feeling as if I was leaving behind old friends, though they were complete strangers. That summer, I transferred to Mercy, and it has been my life ever since, as a student, teacher, coach, assistant principal, and now principal.
Do you have daughters?
No. I have two boys. Ian is ten and Wesley is seven. I always wanted a little girl, so God gave me 550 daughters who I love as much.
Who created the ad campaign? Was it Mercy Academy or Doe Anderson?
Doe Anderson’s creative team
Whose decision was it to move your advertising this direction, yours or Doe Anderson’s or someone else’s?
Doe Anderson has national campaigns with Triumph Motorcycles and Maker’s Mark, and here we are … Mercy Academy, a small-by-design, all-girls school with limited money to put toward a campaign. However, from the moment they met with us, we felt important to them. Their CEO, Todd Spencer, even came to the initial meeting. I asked him if they would see us as a tiny client who they occasionally checked in on from time-to-time, and he said they treat every client with the same level of importance. We needed to hear that, and Todd has been a man of his word.
We started by telling them what being a Mercy girl is. I knew by their questions and the energy in the room, we were on to something. They later pitched three campaigns, and all three were great, but the princess one articulated our message the best.
Did you think you were going to get a reaction?
It was a risky campaign on our part, because if you isolate “you’re not a princess,” then it can be interpreted many ways. Doe Anderson knew that would get people to think and ask questions, which would let us tell our story. We just never expected it on a national level.
What has the reaction been from The Catholic Church/Archdiocese, parents, alumni and current students?
The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. I think it’s affirmed for our students and parents why they chose Mercy. It has energized our alumnae who have posted online, called and mailed how Mercy taught them to write their own story, long before it was a tagline. I’ve received emails and letters from people all over the world … Indonesia, Mexico, Canada, UK, Australia, etc. We have been on the Today Show, NPR, Huffington Post-UK, Yahoo News, AP, etc.
“Prepare for Real Life” and “Write Your Own Story” are two very empowering slogans you use. How long have you used those?
They have been a part of Mercy since 1885, but Doe Anderson articulated them for us. Our foundress, Catherine McAuley, founded a religious order and opened 14 centers in ten years that gave shelter and education to women and girls in19th century Ireland and England. She did this all within the faith and tradition of the Catholic Church. That is why her face is on the front of our building. Our girls are inspired by Catherine to write their story, one where they too can be inspired by God’s love to better our world. That’s what we mean by our girls writing their own story.
Are you able to see the impact yet?
We may not see the impact for a year or two. This came about at a time when many 8th grade girls had already decided where they would attend high school.
Your admissions tests are December 14. I would be anxious to see if your numbers are up from previous years.
We are too, but as mentioned, it might take a year or two. If nothing else, we have told our story.
What do you think this generation of current students thinks about feminism? Do you think they even realize what is going on?
I’ve been asked if I think this is a feminist message, and I usually hesitate because everyone has their own interpretation of the word. We teach our girls to look beyond themselves, to share with others the love, spirit, kindness, and grace of Catherine and the Sisters of Mercy. We want them to be leaders who stand up for those who don’t have a voice in this world. We want them to be strong in their faith and love for God. If that is feminism, then yes, it is 100% a feminist message.
You talk about being a “forward thinking” school. Can you elaborate on that a little more for our readers?
We are preparing our students for jobs that don’t exist right now, so educators have to think “forward.” We have to teach them to think critically, collaborate with others, solve problems, be entrepreneurs, and more. We started this process five years ago with an intensive in-service where I told the faculty we were throwing out our old curriculum and starting from scratch.
We started basing student grades in the class on how she used the knowledge gained to solve a real-world problem. An example can be seen with our chemistry teacher who stopped having students mix chemicals and write down the reactions for a quiz grade. She now presents her students with a simulated oil spill and tells them to take their knowledge of the chemicals she taught and use it to clean up the oil spill like they might find in the Gulf of Mexico.
Most great teachers have this type of classroom because they understand how transformational this type of instruction is, but at Mercy, there is no other option. All of my teachers know that when I look at their grade books, I need to see the bulk of a student’s grade being based on performance tasks and not how well a student can memorize vocab terms or dates from every battle in the Civil War. My teachers are doing their best work, and our test scores show that. Our AP pass rate jumped from 54% in 2008 when we started this journey to 77% this year. We also require all students in the AP class to take the test, which makes that percentage jump even more significant.
This is what Doe Anderson was so energized by when we met with them. They talked about wanting this type of education for their children. Not because we have a few teachers doing it, but because every teacher at Mercy does it.
Thank you to Amy Elstone for taking time out of her busy day to answer my questions.
We all want to make a better, bigger life for our daughters. Treating them like princesses, giving them whatever they want, is not necessarily what they need. They need the ability to be self-sufficient. To think for themselves. To solve their own problems. To Fail. To Hope. To Succeed. All of these things on their own. So much of this is unspoken. Thank you to Mercy Academy and Doe Anderson for putting these honest words on paper and starting the conversation with our children.