The Story of ‘The Fearless Girl,’ From the Women at McCann Who Made Her
State Street Global Advisors statue is an instant sensation
It’s been three days since McCann New York and its client State Street Global Advisors, under the cover of darkness, dropped a statue called “The Fearless Girl” into Bowling Green Park in lower Manhattan.
Staring down the 28-year-old Wall Street “Charging Bull” statue, she’s a potent symbol of female leadership in business, and of the need for companies everywhere to get more women on their boards and into other powerful positions—for reasons not just symbolic but practical, as companies with gender-diverse leaders simply perform better financially.
The statue was literally an overnight sensation. It’s become a serious tourist attraction, mobbed day and night by crowds charmed by the girl’s confident and defiant pose. It’s become the place to take a selfie in Manhattan this week, and it’s a remarkable piece of breakthrough advertising in a category—finance—that doesn’t see many of them.
“This is about relevance,” State Street Global Advisors chief marketing officer Stephen Tisdalle tells AdFreak. “Relevance to investors’ portfolios, relevance in terms of our point of view about capital market events, and relevance about investing responsibly. We are firm believers in the principles of stewardship, and we want to reflect that in everything we do—especially as it pertains to our commitment in ESG [environmental, social and governance] investing. The placement of ‘The Fearless Girl’ in the epicenter of the world’s financial capital helps not only promote our commitment to women in leadership today and tomorrow, but it also establishes an interesting emotional and rational aspect to responsible investing.”
To hear more about the girl’s creation, we spoke with McCann senior copywriter Tali Gumbiner and senior art director Lizzie Wilson, who spearheaded the campaign, working with McCann’s production department and outside sculptor Kristen Visbal to bring the idea to life—timed to International Women’s Day on Wednesday.
Still ecstatic about the overwhelming reaction to the girl, Gumbiner and Wilson told us about how she came to be.
AdFreak: First of all, congratulations on a such an incredible reaction to the piece. Did you expect it to be so huge?
Tali Gumbiner: When we first thought of it, we felt the magic for it. And then once we got into the weeds of production, and midnights at the office, we lost sight of the larger picture. So, when we launched it, we felt humbled and overwhelmed by how the city, and particularly individual girls, have reacted to it. So, I guess the answer is yes and no. But the breadth of the reaction, I think no one can expect that.
Can you put into words why people are so drawn to her?
Lizzie Wilson: I think there is something so relatable about a kid. I think you see yourself in her, but you also see your kids. You see the future, and you see your past. I think there’s something so relatable about a little girl.
TG: Also, there was a lot of discussion with State Street about the timing of this, because it was so important and meaningful. Launching it on the cusp of International Women’s Day really provided so much fodder for people to emotionally react to her. I think that was a key element of this.
Obviously this is a grander idea than a print ad or a hashtag or even an inspiring video. Where did the idea come from to do a statue?
TG: State Street brought us a pretty once-in-a-blue-moon brief. They have this ETF [exchange-traded fund] called SHE, which only invests in companies with women in leadership. They conducted studies that found companies with gender-diverse leadership, and women in leadership, are actually more lucrative. So, we had this wonderful opportunity where we weren’t just advocating for women in leadership because it’s a nice thing to do, but because we actually need to change the perception of what a successful company is made of. That is such a challenge, but such a cool one.
We had to take a look at Wall Street and find a way to get people to rethink what leadership should be, because it’s been so historically male, and people—subconsciously or consciously—view male leaders as the backbone of successful financial companies. We couldn’t just do a print ad for the brief like that. It would be squandered.
So, we sat down and went through all these ways of how to flip the story. How can we do this in a way that’s disruptive, and has not been done before? And the bull just came to us. This is the symbol of power. Nobody talks about how he’s overwhelmingly masculine. People line up to rub his private parts! We had to figure out a way to change the meaning of the symbol of Wall Street. Working with [McCann North America chief creative officer] Eric Silver and [worldwide CCO] Rob Reilly, the girl came from that.
Did you know Kristen Visbal, the sculptor, beforehand? How did she get involved?
LW: She was found by production. It was very important to us to work with a female team. We really wanted a female artist to be part of this. We wanted a female photographer. We wanted as much female leadership represented as possible, and as many female hands on the project as possible.
So the team embodies the message.
LW: It really does. And Kristen did a fantastic job. She was unbelievably collaborative and really inspiring, and she was so excited about the project the whole time.
What was the time frame here? How long was the lead time?
TG: Normally something like this would take well over a year. We briefed in the artist in December. So, it was nothing short of a heroic effort on the part of our production team, and Kristen’s production team. We all pulled multiple all-nighters for this.
LW: The process of making things out of bronze is exactly the same as it was when the Romans were doing it. It takes months to make something like this. And they just worked around the clock. It was crazy.
I read somewhere that Kristen based the girl on family members. Is that true?
LW: No, that’s not true. The girl is a combination of a few little girls, plus some reference images. They are girls in her hometown.
TG: We were so meticulous with Kristen about designing the girl’s look. It was super important to us, and to everyone at McCann, that she feel relatable to all kinds of girls and all kinds of women. We didn’t want anyone to feel marginalized when they saw this girl, and we worked really hard to combine multiple different models and references into one amalgamation.
Her posture is so important, too. She’s strong and defiant.
LW: I think the inspiration for the posture is taken directly from the power poses that women have been doing. There’s an awesome lady who did a TED Talk about power poses. The hands on the hips is such an amazing thing that you do as a kid that you don’t do as a grown woman. But all of that was so delicate, because you want her to be strong and confident, but you don’t want her to be angry.
TG: Every tiny detail of that pose, and particularly the face, and her tilt and angle, was so carefully designed to articulate a really specific message. We didn’t want her to be antagonistic. We just wanted her to be confident and self-assured. And it’s a really fine balance. In collaboration with Kristen, we think it couldn’t have turned out better.
You’ve explained it a bit, but can you talk more about choosing a girl instead of a woman? Was there any discussion of having a woman instead of a girl be the symbol of feminism here?
LW: Yeah. I think the girl just felt universal. I feel like the girl is just something everyone can relate to—man, woman, regardless of age. She felt like the “in.”
TG: She really captures that David and Goliath sentiment, and the underdog element we were looking for. We also didn’t want this just to be about the women of today. We wanted to inspire the future leaders of tomorrow. And we felt that a grown woman wouldn’t be as emotionally striking as a little girl. But it was definitely a very thoroughly discussed topic. She struck a chord as a little girl, and she was more inspiring as a little girl.
Were you guys there overnight Monday when they set her up? And have you spent much time down there checking out people’s reactions?
LW: We were there during the entire installation. We started around midnight on Tuesday. I think it went until about 4, and then we got some photography at 5 or 6 in the morning. It was pretty incredible. She was lifted up off a truck bed and craned over into position. It was cool. Also, going down on site—Tim, I don’t know if you’ve been down there, but it is so much fun. It is just a constant stream of kids, and women, and men, and people wandering around during lunchtime.
I’ve seen some great photos.
TG: You should check out the live bull cam. There’s always a live camera on the bull itself. You won’t even be able to see her, because she is just mobbed. Lizzie and I went down there a lot before the girl was dropped, just to take different measurements and stuff. And we were so used to seeing mobs of people around the bull. And it’s been so fun for us to see the attention shifted to our girl, and see the mobs of people paying attention to her. That’s been very special for us, to have that before-and-after vision.
It must be really gratifying to create a piece that’s so tactile and artful. So much advertising is virtual, on a screen or a page.
LW: It’s amazing. Any person who works in advertising, I think it’s their dream—to make something tactile, that you can take your parents down, and touch, and explain what you do.
TG: Lizzie’s parents are coming in from Georgia tomorrow, and she’s actually doing that! Which is so endearing to me. I love that.
LW: What we make is so ephemeral. To make something that might be around for a while is so gratifying.
Speaking of that, there’s been a lot of speculation about whether she will get to stay. What have you heard on that front?
TG: We’re fighting for it, man. We’re fighting the good fight. We’re guaranteed until April 2, I think. There have been a lot of calls from political people like Chelsea Clinton, and Hollywood people like Jessica Chastain. There are a lot of calls out there to make her a permanent fixture. We really support that, obviously, and want to make that a reality.
LW: We’re talking to the city to see if there’s any way she can stay longer. We would love for her to be semi-permanent or permanent. That’s the dream.