Monday, August 17, 2015

Stopping the Barbie mentality

Two companies recently took steps to change how they approach the female demographic. Target took a step forward. BIC took a step backward.

Target announced it would remove in-store signs that categorize products as gender-specific. Good move; it should be up to the parents and their kids to determine which toys sons and daughters prefer. While a minor issue -- no one had filed a lawsuit over the "girls' building sets" signs -- it's a simple change that shows the big retailer's listening to its customers. The company earned positive media coverage for it.

BIC's faux pas was a hastily launched and withdrawn online ad tied to Women's Day in South Africa. You can read about it here. Bad form, BIC. Objectifying women and telling them to "think like a man" insults every woman who's ever had her suggestions batted down by a lame-brained male executive. 

BIC, you'll recall, launched a line of pink and purple "BIC for Her" pens that earned scorn and mockery from consumers, who plastered Amazon.com with sarcastic comments. In the PR universe, BIC has a tin ear about what women want in a pen. Or a disposable razor. Or an ad campaign.

Every consumer-focused business thinks they know their audience demographic. Common corporate wisdom says that women make the majority of purchase decisions in most households. So women should, and do, call foul over gender pandering when companies slap a pink logo on a product and call it "Just for Her."

Regardless of gender, communications professionals can also offer insights that may prevent a company from making repeated BIC-like mistakes. I once had to tell a client not to do a news release promoting the client's first outdoor ad campaign to feature black models because critics would ding the company for not having done it years earlier.

You'd expect someone at BIC has enough insight to warn managers about Barbie-dolling women in their campaigns. But you never know.

And while we're at it -- why is there no Women's Day in the U.S.?