Published on November 5, 2018, at 3:57 p.m.
by Ali Carden.
Ninety-seven years ago Miss America was born.
The Miss America Organization has been putting on its annual production in Atlantic City, New Jersey, since 1921. Since then, it has made countless changes to the program to maintain its relevance and appeal. With the goal of promoting women’s success and talents, the organization has undertaken an immense rebranding in an attempt to keep the program up to date with a changing society. One bold decision made by the organization in hopes of creating a new reputation for Miss America was the removal of the swimsuit competition, which was announced this past summer.
Not only did this decision shock the loyal followers, donors and participants of the Miss America Organization, but it also surprised those beyond the organization’s immediate audience. “We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent, and empowerment,” Gretchen Carlson, chairwoman for the board of directors, explained.
Although the Miss America Organization has made numerous changes since its 1921 debut — such as adding the talent competition in 1936 — the recent rebranding has overwhelmed Miss America viewers.
Americans have loved the tradition of gathering around the television to watch the Miss America pageant. Millions of viewers each year enjoy watching beautiful women be challenged with onstage questions, display their talents, glide across the stage in gorgeous formal gowns and confidently strut in their swimsuits showing off their physical health.
In June, Miss America 2.0 was born when Carlson traded in high heels for Converse sneakers, as seen on the organization’s newly released website.
Ever since Carlson has taken leadership, the Miss America contest has been having an identity crisis.
In August, Cara Mund, Miss America 2018, published a letter to her “Miss America Sisters” and explained how she had been mistreated in her role as Miss America by being told she was replaceable, not being invited to make appearances and being mocked for her wardrobe. Following the release of Mund’s letter, the CEO of the Miss America Organization at the time, Sam Haskell, resigned from his position due the backlash. Carlson stepped up and took the liberty of rebranding the classic, traditional pageant from representing style, scholarship, service and success to Miss America’s new mission statement, which is “to prepare great women for the world, and to prepare the world for great women.”
Is the Miss America Organization doing that now?
As Miss America 2.0 was introduced, audiences anxiously awaited the September competition. However, what took place on Sept. 9 seemed to have a whole new agenda. As a leader in the #metoo movement, Carlson made bold choices when reworking the production.
Many changes occurred during the show, such as replacing the swimsuit portion with a question from the judges, a chance to discuss the participants’ platforms during the evening gown round, and onstage questions asked by other contestants. The talent portion also counted as a greater percentage of the final score of the competition. All of these changes represent the progress of the Miss America Organization empowering women and providing scholarship money for further education.
Ultimately, Miss America’s rebranding is a direct result of the change in leadership. However, when leadership is uncertain and arguably used as a position to produce social change through personal agendas that don’t align with an organization’s previous values, rebranding can go wrong. It is important to know your audience, articulate your intention behind the change and stay true to the organization’s values.