WOMEN! Do you want to buy some PRODUCTS? Well I’ve got something for you – yes, you. You can tell it’s for you because I’ve made it REALLY OBVIOUS by slapping words like ‘fresh‘ and ‘delicate’ all over my packaging and – if that’s not enough to penetrate your fresh, delicate brains – I’ve even painted it pink. Let’s talk sexism in marketing.
It’s like this other thing, but for girls!
Girlified versions of normal things make me spit rage. They stem from a recognition that some girls like X, coupled with an assumption that by golly! They’d like X even more if it came in a slightly smaller/pinker/healthier version.
I’m going to say this really clearly: girls like all kinds of shit. So do guys. You don’t have to limit yourself to an all-male market just because your product involves engines, red meat or RAM. Equally, if you want to make your product appeal to women, you don’t need to dress it up in spangles and call it ‘mini.’ Because the tables are turning, people, and not only will it actively turn a lot of women off your products, quite a few of us get justifiably annoyed and will write angry blog posts about your patronising ad copy.
A female-friendly mindset: sexism in marketing
My rage-sensors were alerted to this by a friend of mine who sent me the ad for STK London. In case you aren’t as eye-bleedingly cool as the people who came up with the name, STK means ‘steak’. It’s a steak house, but with a mind-boggling twist:
STK London boldly proclaims that it has a female-friendly mindset.
A what? Are other steakhouses actively barring women? Do they have large, angry sexists positioned outside the doors holding neon signs that say ‘no chicks’? If so, I could see why a ‘female-friendly’ mindset might help distinguish this restaurant from the competition, but no. Sadly, the ‘female-friendly mindset’ is summed up by this quote from their website:
STK offers small, medium and large cuts of meat, as well as naturally raised options and market fresh fish entrees.
We’re appealing to women who like steak by offering them a) smaller portions of steak b) slightly different types of steak and c) something that is not even fucking steak.
B is understandable (although I am struggling to work out why they think this ‘naturally raised’ options wouldn’t appeal to some men too), but a) and c)? You’ve got to be shitting me.
This isn’t a restaurant aimed at men or women. Initially confused, I wondered if it had been designed by confused male advertising executives who love steak but have never met any actual women. They’re trying to create their ideal steak restaurant: a sort of picture-book fantasy where women in skintight business attire munch sexily on tiny, feminine portions of ‘steakette’.
And then I saw their YouTube advert, and realised that I was spot on.
Buy my product now, there’s a good girl
And so neatly onto my second example: Lord Sugar, (a British businessman who used to sell a brand of computer you’ve never heard of) sent a tweet this week that’s surely going to have 1950s secretaries giggling into their typewriters:
Women, why not get the boss to buy you all a small gift for Christmas to show appreciation for all your hard work bit.ly/VTBv2D
— Lord Sugar (@Lord_Sugar) November 19, 2012
Unfortunately for Lord Sugar, women didn’t take too kindly to his suggestion that they celebrate Christmas by persuading their bosses to buy them nail files. Sugar himself is probably wondering if they’re all on their blahddy periods or something, so for the record here’s what’s wrong with that tweet:
– it’s incredibly patronising. Assuming that someone’s boss would buy them a nail file for a job well done implies that the job itself is of incredibly low value. Think ‘assistant’ rather than ‘boss.’
– the product itself has been ‘girlified’. Nail files? They’re for women, so let’s paint them pink. Forgetting, of course, that many men file their nails too. Apart from being patronising and sexist, it’s a marketing technique that risks alienating vast numbers of people (i.e. men who file their nails) so that they won’t end up buying the product.
‘Limiting the market just to women’ is a terrible business idea. A TERRIBLE one. How do I know this? Well, it was exactly the reason Lord Sugar himself gave for the failure of the losing team on last week’s Junior Apprentice.
The hapless teenagers had to pitch a cookbook to booksellers. One team decided to go with a cookbook ‘for professional women.’ In a scene I rather hope a lot of ad professionals watched, every single member of the market research group said ‘why just women? Surely men like food too?’ But apparently not.
The team, against all advice to the contrary, decided that Professional Women were a niche market that needed to be targeted with something radically different. Something that only women like. Clearly taking a leaf out of STK London’s book, the food they selected for these women was ‘quick, fresh and healthy’.
I won’t go into the details, and I don’t want to pick on these poor youngsters – they’re clearly doing what they see ad execs and marketing people and ALAN FUCKING SUGAR doing all the bloody time.
The point I’m making is that Lord Sugar shitcanned them. He criticised a bunch of 17-year-olds for making patronising assumptions that even fully-paid-up restaurant marketing executives make. Moreover, a mistake that he made himself just one week later by tweeting “Hey ladies, get your generous bosses to give you a pink nail file as a Christmas bonus.”
I won’t buy your shit just because you painted it pink
Marketers, you’re way better than this, you know that? There have been some masterpieces of advertising created in the last 5-10 years. Ads can make us laugh, cry, reminisce, and – yes – more often than not open our fucking wallets.
But you don’t need to stoop to this level. You don’t need to patronise women and imply that we’re incapable of enjoying certain things unless they’ve been packaged for us, labelled ‘fresh’ and covered in sparkly glitter. Sure, some people might want pink iPod nanos or lilac convertibles, so make ’em if you want to, just don’t label it the ‘ladies version’. You’ll piss off a lot of ladies, and more than a few pink-loving men.
You need to become more varied, more interesting and more inclusive. But even if you can’t reach these lofty heights, can you at least try to be better than a bunch of terrified teenagers on The Apprentice?