On adverts for the ladies

Image by the brilliant Stuart F Taylor

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:

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?


  • Chaz says:

    I watched the STK ad with interest. Had I not known in advance what they were advertising, I’d have thought it was one of those oh-so-witty perfume ads that are so prevalent these days. As it is, it looked like a fantasist’s idea of a lesbian orgy. As a female, I wasn’t persuaded that STK was somewhere I’d enjoy a pleasant dining experience. I’ll pass.

    As for “Srallun”, he’s a misogynistic old dinosaur. Why would anyone listen to him? H

  • obscureusername says:

    Personally I’m less likely to buy it if it’s painted pink, as I don’t happen to like the colour.
    And I was rather offended recently when I bought a Star Wars Lego advent calendar to be told by the (male) manager “We also have girls ones”. Meaning the pink Lego ‘Friends’ one. The rubbish one that they had piles of because it wasn’t selling. Because girls can’t possibly like the Star Wars one.
    He looked taken aback when I said it was for me.

    And talking of adverts aimed at women – here’s one I quite like. It’s still got a load of stereotypes in there but at least it’s taking the piss out of them! http://youtu.be/z0hq4bBnYIM

  • DM7 says:

    Oh God, that STK advert is Vomitous!

  • chimpliment says:

    Thankfully, you’re not the only one angry. These Amazon reviews are GLORIOUS. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mobileweb/2012/08/30/bic-pen-for-her-amazon-reviews_n_1842991.html

  • ilmari says:

    How the fuck is a fucking nail file a show of appreciation? It must have cost almost a whole pound!

    Also, speaking of pink, I’m currently enjoying a raspberry beer, and I’m a beardy bloke!

  • Ash says:

    I’m a copywriter by day. The quality of these ads makes me nauseous.

  • Raoul says:

    I think you’ll find the Lord Sugar was being “ironic” !!! and that he was fooling you all into thinking that he was thinking that by “boss” he meant “man” and the gift would be entirely appropriate to a vacuous unthinking person, I think….

  • Imogen says:

    That STK ad has got to be a joke. Please let it be a joke. My GOD.

  • DB says:

    This reminded me of an article on ‘ladyphones’ I read earlier this year: http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2012/03/does-this-smartphone-make-me-look-stupid-meet-the-ladyphones/

    You’d really think we’d be at the point now where stuff like this is so outlandishly offensive that shops would refuse to carry it.

  • TJ says:

    Oh, that advert was amazing! So, what, when women go out for steak (I think it was supposed to be a hen party, from the proposal scene at the beginning?), they rip it up with their bare hands, feed tiny peices to each other (or rather, put tiny pieces in each other’s mouths, as women don’t *chew* and certainly don’t *swallow*), and rip their (and each other’s) press-fastened shirts open for the lulz. And fix their lipstick after every bite. And treat opening champagne like it’s Science!

    So funny.

  • Dumb Domme says:

    This is somewhat related. Ok, not really, but kinda.

    What’s been pissing me off lately about marketing to women is the push to make feminine hygiene products either more feminine or somehow “bold and awesome!” I’m not entirely sure how you cold make a feminine hygiene product somehow more feminine (it’s for women, for menstruation… how much more bio female can you get?). And I’m sure there is a way to “empower” women with pads and tampons, but it just seems like such a crass marketing technique that I can barely stand to consider the benefits.

    Do we really need to design our own maxi-pads? With GLITTER? Seriously? Who doesn’t want glitter in their vagina… amirite ladies?

    And neon tampons? I’m sure neon tampons will make me feel zippy, happy, and empowered when I’m bloated, tired, and leaking blood all over everything.

    • Elettaria says:

      Actually, over in reusable menstrual products, colours and patterns are going down a storm. But if you’re getting something that will last years, and is made out of fabric anyway, you may as well get nice fabric. (Although some WAHMs who make cloth nappies are using the same fabric for their menstrual pads, to the disgust of many adults who do not want to be bleeding over Hello Kitty, thank you very much.) As for menstrual cups, why not get them in a cheery colour? They can last a good decade, and are distinctly nifty. In both cases, pads and cups aren’t going to cause any harm by being in nice colours or patterns, and are always thoroughly washed before use. Plus it can be a useful way of telling different sizes apart (e.g. I got purples for my nighttime pads and oranges for my daytime ones).

      But for disposables? What on earth would be the point? It’s bad enough that they’re bleached without adding glitter.

  • Lee says:

    I temporarily put to one side the whole steak thing, followed GOTN’s link and watched the advert.

    Then thought “Oh my, an S&M club that serves steak”.

    Either my idea of S&M is very far from reality (quite probable) or that’s a very daft advert (aha!)


  • Bee says:

    Unbelievably, I have had sexist experiences in steak restaurants. I’d go out with my husband, we’d both order steaks medium rare, his would come medium rare and mine would be medium well. We’d have to swap.

    Unfortunately STK does not seem to acknowledge this occurrence in their attempts to create “female friendly” steak houses (hands up who’s surprised!) Pfft…

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