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“Bic for Her” pens re-write story of gendered marketing

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Faye Mooney
WVoN co-editor

Many WVoN readers will be well aware that the internet can be a very frustrating place for women.

Stories we covered in just the past few days, for example, have included trolling and pornographic facebook pages.

However, this week I came across something a little more heartening, for once.

The launch of a new range of women’s pens by Bic has sparked an outpouring of hilariously disparaging responses and reviews on the Amazon website.

The page has gone viral, with websites and newspapers picking up on the sarcastically expressed outrage surrounding the product.

To clarify: “Bic for Her” pens come in purple or pink hues (you know, those lovely colours that all women just simply adore), and are designed especially for the oh-so-different delicate shape of the female hand.

At the time of writing, 355 people had shared their views on the pens on the Amazon website, each one seemingly as baffled by their ridiculousness as the next:

“A treatise on the suitability of the pink pen: Pray, what is a ‘pen’? I do like it so, because it is so pink, but I remain ignorant as to its practical use… I can only assume that because it is pink, it is intended for a woman’s useage. I am a woman, therefore perhaps I should have this pink so-called pen?”

“Revolutionary article – must buy!: This pen is great. I bought it for all my female friends and relatives. It enabled them, finally, to write things (although they may not yet know to do so on paper; but you can only expect so much, really). I thought they were just a bit slow.”

 “Terrible: This is the most uncomfortable tampon I have ever used. Honestly, I don’t know what Bic was thinking. Don’t recommend.”

So, apart from a laugh, what can we take away from this internet reaction?

Perhaps, just maybe, that absurd gender-based stereotypes which assume all women love pink, fluffy love hearts and kittens and so on, are actually becoming laughable and redundant; that both men and women are starting to refuse to accept the gender constructs fed to us for so long by the world of advertising.

As reported in the National Post, Ken Wong, a marketing professor at Queen’s School of Business, has said “The real lesson I think for Bic is if you’re going to make a distinction between gender, it better be scientifically based.

“If it’s tied to something that seems whimsical, I think you’re going to find yourself in a big whack of trouble.”

Either way, let’s hope Bic’s marketing department, and indeed marketing departments all over the world, are sitting up and taking note: patronising gender-based products are outdated and unwanted. To remain relevant and current, companies must keep pace with notions of equality that much of the world now employs. We are far away from the days of “Mad Men” advertising .

Who knows, perhaps in 10 years time little girls might be laughing at the idea of having to wear pink and boys could be clamouring to play with “My Little Ponies”.

(Note: There is a project underway in London at the moment called Breakthrough Stereotypes which is trying to push forward this very process!)

  1. How Bic for Women came about:
    Idiocy, not malice – A Lesson in corporate process

    How, you think? How did this happen? How did Bic manage to make a pink pen targeted towards women? By which I mean, what process and by what methods did they accomplish the feat of corporate daring-do whereby the were able to unconsciously output something so obviously flawed and seemingly-sexist without someone bringing up that this was a bad idea?
    The answer is much like that sentence- long run-on chains with lots of message and no content.

    Here is what happened:

    Bic initiated a project to learn more about their market-share so they could learn how to better target existing customers and get NEW customer.

    They found out, by various means that are too inane to go into here, that a vast chunk of their customers were women. Also, there are more young women today, and with the influence of famous authors like J.K. Rowling and the woman who wrote Twilight, more young girls are being inspired to write.
    Thus, it only stood to reason that they must target women more.
    Someone produced a 155 slide powerpoint “deck” that basically said:
    Women = Money

    Since a large chunk of the women are younger girls, and no one really debates that other products that have been manufactured in lighter pastels sell better to young girls (they probably were even able to find statistics that could prove, via a 244 slide powerpoint, that “Young girls heart pastels.”) … the answer was simple- a pen that is more pastel… and
    and…
    here is the revolutionary part…
    the pen is smaller…
    cause we know the average woman’s hand is smaller than a man’s, so why SHOULDN’T there be a pen that is smaller?
    It is sexist that there ISN’T!
    (It is at this point in the conversation, the term “progressive” and “thought-leader” and perhaps even “gender-forward” will be thrown around.) If no women have been involved in the conversation thus far- and contrary to what you may believe, they probably have- they will definitely become involved at this point.
    These women, like all human beings, don’t want to tell someone their idea, which is personal and creative and subjective, is utterly terrible. They also don’t want to be seen as contradictory by their superiors. So they go along with it- certain that somewhere else in the process, this foolish thing will be stopped.
    Honestly- there may even be some that really don’t think it is a bad idea. Who knows. People are weird and have all sorts of incongruencies.

    To be fair, there are men involved who realize this is a bad idea, but they, like the women, don’t want to be seen as “not a team player”, so they try to voice a few soft concerns, then shut up.

    Later, a marketing company will test the pens with consumers, which will lead to success. How? For a variety of psychological reasons I don’t feel like getting into, but most importantly: because they are being paid to test an idea.. and no one likes telling someone their ideas are bad…remember?

    “Yes! The pens test well with young girls! They even liked the name- Bic for Her… one said in the review (that we paid her $10 to fill out after trying the pens) ‘I like the name. It lets me know the pen is for a girl… like me.’

    High-fives are exchanged and terms like “industry-leader” and “maverick” are thrown around.

    I’ll be honest- how this got by legal, I have no clue. I can only assume all the men were drunk and the women were too busy writing.

    And so the pen is released.

    Also released is a commercial of a creepy costumed Bic-man handing a Bic for Her to a young girl in a middle school hallway. Because that seems normal and totally what will influence a young girl to buy something.
    We are told the pen is more perfect for women because of its “fabulous styling and smooth writing.” Smooth writing? Before you cry sexism at the implication that women need smoother pens, as if they weren’t strong enough to work the ones currently available, let me explain.

    Consultants were brought in. They were able to determine that one of the things that is most important to pen users is smooth writing. In fact, everyone they interviewed said, when asked, ‘What is important to you in a pen?”

    “Uh..I don’t know.. I guess that it writes smoothly. Ya know, its irritating when you are writing and the pen sorta cuts out for a minute and you have to rewrite that part.”

    Smooth writing. 98% of people mentioned smooth writing when asked what is important to them in a pen. We’d be STUPID not to mention smooth writing in the ad copy.

    All this because no one at the ad agency had the courage to stand up and say “this is a terrible idea.”
    No one looked at the committee and said, “This is stupid. A pen really doesn’t change that much- we all know this…”
    (At this point uncomfortable looks will be shared because Jay Sutton, at the end of the table is a well-known pen guy, owning several monte blancs and engaging, with all willing, into long discussions about the virtues of various $1000+ pens.)
    “Look, lets think outside the box! Instead of talking about the pen, which are all pretty much the same, let’s talk about what you can DO with the pen. Let’s show what you can write WITH the pen. In fact… that’s perfect. I mean, JK Rowling and that twilight woman? Aren’t like, 4 of the top 5 best selling authors of all times women now? We could show a montage of really cool and creative scenes- just let the creative department go wild with it! Vampires, werewolves, pirates, whatever captures the imagination go a young girl- we can bring in consultants to figure out what that is…
    Then pull out and show that they are all ideas and scenes being written by a young girl. Throw in some copy about you being the next best-selling author. it would be powerful, moving, and inspirational all at once!”

    Damn… this is a good idea. Some ad-person is gonna steal this…

    At that point, however, this voice will be met with uncomfortable stares, nervous shifting and confused questions.

    Eventually one person higher up the food chain will see the beauty of this idea and promptly steal it. He will pass it to his superior, who will steal it, and so on till it reaches the top decision maker. He will hear the idea, sit back and his chair and think, “Hm… I have no idea what they are talking about… but ya know… something they said makes me think….some of the top authors these days are women. Things are changing. But pens don’t change that much… so why don’t we focus on WOMEN AUTHORS instead of the function of the pen! We could take those scenes they were talking about and show them being WRITTEN by a YOUNG GIRL! It would be powerful and moving and inspirational. Holy shit! This is a great idea! I should be teaching this stuff!”

    4 months later the commercial will be released, only now all the scenes the girl is writing involve princesses, unicorns and fairies, because the creative director has an 8 year old girl who likes….

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