Thank God I'm typing this post on a laptop, because ladies like me need special, feminine pens to write longhand these days.
Ah, that's better.
You may have seen the hilarious Amazon customer reviews for the BIC "For Her" Ball Pen that have been circulating the web this week. Written in response to BIC's ludicrous idea that women need a pen with an "Elegant design - just for her!" and a "Thin barrel to fit a women's hand," the reviews are smart, sarcastic, and sounding alarms in the social media world for all the wrong reasons.
The "firestorm" ignited on Amazon.com is being framed in the advertising/PR/social media world as a debacle of epic proportions not because BIC produced an infantilizing, unnecessary, sexist product that is pissing off potential customers, but because BIC didn't secure a Twitter account to respond to the fallout. Says B.L. Ochman of Ad Age:
Despite the fact that the buzz has been growing for weeks, the brand did not have the foresight to secure @BicForHer on Twitter, where a spoof account has already been launched, nor did they buy the URL www.bicforher.com, which is available for $12.99. A Tumblr blog is chronicling the funniest reviews and blog posts. An ad for BIC for Her launched last week, and is fast picking up derisive comments on YouTube. And through it all, BIC is silent.
Steve Hall of Ad Rants has a different take. He doesn't believe this "debacle" will harm BIC's brand, and advocates the company do nothing. "I'm not arguing that a small but very vocal minority should be ignored," he says. "But in the greater scheme of things, is this really as big a deal as we'd like to make it?"
Patricio Robles of econsultancy agrees, adding that, "At this point, the 'backlash' against BIC for Her is better described as an exercise in sarcasm, and while this could be the start of something bigger, it's worth keeping in mind that, at this moment, there are still under 200 reviews for the BIC for Her pen on Amazon.com."
Yes, they're looking at it from a PR perspective, but debating whether or not BIC should've secured @BicForHer on Twitter before a (sadly suspended) spoof account could start ignores the real issue here: BIC made a pen "for her"! A PEN. FOR HER. And not only that, BIC is charging significantly more for its lady pens than it is for the gender-neutral varieties. The problem isn't how BIC is handling the social media backlash, it's that the pen was made in the first place.
These reviews have gotten media traction outside of feminist spheres because they're funny, but you don't need to be a Women's Studies major to spot the sexism. BIC is talking down to its female customers, assuming that women are so flighty and delicate as to desire a glittery, pastel, slender writing utensil. Precious ladies can't use MAN PENS! We might break our tiny ring fingers!
That flawed logic (women have undoubtedly been using ballpoint pens since they were first patented in 1888) is what's alienating people, not BIC's lazy customer response rate. Amazon reviewers are cleverly skewering this product because it's offensive and ridiculous (and entertaining).
Full text here.
If BIC learns a lesson from this "disaster," it shouldn't be one about registering domain names or weathering a storm of complaints. It should be that women don't want to be upsold on stupid shiny lady pens. Period.
Image: Margaret Hartmann