The Advertising of Gendered Products
After panning over a young woman’s matching black bra and panty set, she wakes and gets up from the bed she’s sharing with a ripped shirtless dude. She dons his jeans before heading outside … without a shirt on. Once outside, dressed in only the baggy pants and bra, she slips her hand into the pocket of the jeans to find Chapfix, the guy’s lip balm. The shot zooms in on her mouth as she slides the balm across her lips, not unlike a close-up of a woman performing fellatio in a porn film.
Fade to black: “CHAPFIX: Engineered for men. Envied by women.”
Described above is a commercial for a recently-marketed lip balm for men. “So many guys use lip balm, yet so few lip balms meet a guy’s needs. If you’re carrying a lip balm with you every day, why should it be something marketed and designed for women?” the “About” page of Chapfix’s website says.
Apart from having a square-shaped tube, which doesn’t bulge in your pants like rounded lady balms, and grips on the side for use while participating in manly activities like running or skiing, Chapfix also has male-specific ingredients for only men’s lips: beeswax, coconut oil, aloe vera and Vitamin E and a mint taste, obviously missing from female lip balms like Burt’s Bees, which only includes peppermint oil for mint taste, Vitamin E, beeswax, and coconut oil … wait.
What’s the deal with these gender-inclusive marketing schemes? While separate men’s and women’s products have existed possibly since the leopard skin bikini was invented for cavewomen, direct advertising campaigns and the products behind them have become more and more blatantly stuck to the opposite ends of the gender binary, even when the differences are minute, if there at all.
Bic’s recent release of pens “For Her” again brought up the topic of everyday items geared toward a stereotyped idea of a “woman,” and came with plenty of media scrutiny. “Finally! For years I’ve had to rely on pencils, or at worst, a twig and some drops of my feminine blood to write down recipes (the only thing a lady should be writing ever),” an Amazon reviewer wrote on the product’s page. “I had despaired of ever being able to write down said recipes in a permanent manner, though my men-folk assured me that I ‘shouldn’t worry yer pretty little head.’”
But Bic’s idea to create a product marketed specifically for one gender isn’t a new phenomenon. Remember 2011’s Dr. Pepper commercials, where after running through the wilderness chased by bad guys as if in some action thriller, a man cools off with a Dr. Pepper Ten, a 10-calorie soda with the slogan, “It’s not for women”? It wasn’t as if Dr. Pepper hadn’t released a diet beverage before. Heck, there wasn’t just Diet Dr. Pepper, there was Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper! What a smorgasbord of flavors to dazzle the tongue of men and women! But, no, men needed their own beverage to remain secure in their masculinity.
Coke has a product with a similar, if not less blatant, idea behind it. Diet Coke was the sugar-free option for those who want to remain faithful to the cola brand without the calories. So why create Coke Zero, another no calorie option? Just look at the website for Diet Coke: A shiny silver background that sparkles. For a long time, the advertising campaign behind Diet Coke featured female puppets that could only get through a rough day with a diet coke.
Coke Zero’s site, on the other hand, is jet black with a slogan in red: “It’s a mindset. A mindset for awesome.” The commercials feature men — humans, not puppets — celebrating the start of football and basketball season, and a campaign for this summer was, “Promise never to settle. Unless it’s into a lawn chair with a Coke Zero.” Do they mean settle, defined as sitting down and sitting still? Or do they mean settle, as in settling down with a partner to get married, create a household, or start a family?
And it seems the marketing is working. Feminspire writer Phoebe Eccles remembers taking drink orders from customers while waitressing as an example: “Men would always insist on ordering ‘Coke Zero and not Diet Coke’. They never believed me when I told them it was the same thing!
It seems a product by any other name smells as sexist.
This isn’t to say all products should be unisex. Men aren’t all attracted to similar products as women; men aren’t all attracted to similar products as other men; women aren’t all attracted to similar products as men … you get the idea.
Take shaving: Any gender can shave, whether it is beards, legs, underarms, pubic hair, etc. But not every razor has the exact same function. Men can use trimmers to shape and groom their beards, while the goal of many women who shave is to remove any and all hair entirely. Men use straight razors more often than women as a cost-effective way to get a close shave. Can you imagine going over your knee with a razor that doesn’t have a flexible head? Ouch.
And shaving is far less painful with shaving cream. Many of these products have similar ingredients, as they serve the same function: aiding in removing leg hair and moisturizing the shaved skin. However, most “female” shaving creams are fruity or flowery scented, while “male” shaving creams are scentless or have a muskier fragrance. This also applies to deodorant, lotion, and some flavored lip balms.
So what crosses the line when it comes to products intended for one or both sexes? It’s the same principle as feminism itself: equality of the sexes. For Chapfix and Dr. Pepper 10 to use slogans that insinuate women are forbidden from using a unisex product is sexism, plain and simple.
Written by Lauren Slavin
December 4, 2013
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