This post originally appeared on BlogHer. Some edits have been made.
You've got to feel bad for Angela Bryant. She's the brand manager for Summer Eve's feminine wash. Not only is she charged with selling a product for douching - an activity the health care profession says is unhealthy and should be avoided, Bryant, by approving an advertorial in Women's Day magazine, is now associated with an ad that is sure to become a classic of how not to market to women.
You know she sat at her desk and felt like vomiting. In case she did lose her cookies, she hopefully had some of those new disposable Wisp toothbrushes by Colgate in her desk, perfect for such an occasion. If she didn't have access to a toothbrush, then maybe she had some Altoids. Either of these products could build a legitimate advertorial around feeling confident when talking to your boss. No one wants to go in and talk to their boss with remnants of the chili dog with raw onion that they ate for lunch.
Bryant's mistake was trying to offer women a solution to a problem that they don't have. When was the last time anyone in your work environment said of another worker, "Sometimes the aroma of her hooch is too strong"?
There is an entire field of study that examines sexism in advertising. Much of it is overt like this British business to business phone ad or the serially arrested Paris Hilton ad for Carl Jr.'s.
The Summer Eve's advertorial got the attention of so many last week not because it was blatantly using sex or sex appeal to sell a product, but because it was taking a real concern of women (career advancement) and dummying it down to saying using a douche product will help them succeed in their careers.
But Summer Eve is certainly not the first company to focus on a key woman's issue and make a ridiculous product association. In the 1950's Lysol tried to convince women that they should douche with their product and if they didn't, their husbands might divorce them.
Jack In The Box tried promoting their Fruit Smoothies with a menopause theme. In the TV spot, they send a message that drinking the fruit smoothies can help with hot flashes (a very real women's issue) and help prevent women from going "street rat crazy," (a stereotype of women-as-hysterical issue).
Does anyone think a fruit smoothie is really going to help with hot flashes?
The same "women are hysterical" theme was used n the 1950s by Marlboro. At that time, the cigarette was primarily marketed to women, and their message to young moms was that smoking their cigarettes would make them a better mom. From Lisa at The Society Pages,
Advertisers also like to play into the theme that women need to change their behavior in order to keep their husbands interested and satisfied. In the 1970s, Funky, a line of clothing, introduced the "Mistress Collection." The ads appeared in Cosmopolitan.
About a decade earlier, Folger's coffee used a similar theme to sell their instant coffee. In this 60-second spot, a husband insults his wife's coffee and says, "the girls in the office make a better cup of coffee on their hotplate." At the end of the spot, the husband likes the coffee so much that he has sex with his wife. Really.
Perhaps the classic ad in this genre of "women are just not good enough to succeed," is a Palmolive soap ad from the 1920s. In this ad about four years after the 19th amendment was passed, the advertisers admonish women, saying that all of their accomplishments are for nought unless they are also pretty.
Some of the best advice about maketing to women comes from a very unlikely source - David Ogilvy. In a term paper about Advertising, Women & Ethics posted on Scribd, the author shares some of Ogilvy's 1960s insights.When you adjust the language for 1960s attitudes, what he says makes a lot of sense.
... he does caution readers and potential advertisers to tell the facts. Ogilvy states, “the consumer isn’t a moron – she is your wife”, and then advises that advertisers not “insult her intelligence.” (124)
That's all we're asking for. Don't insult our intelligence.
(Note: Summer's Eve Brand Manager Angela Bryant has apologized for the advertorial in the comments of the Daily Kos, according to AdFreak.)
Note: For more on why women shouldn't douche, read Dr. Lissa Rankin's Owning Pink.