gender studies

bloomingdale's ad: another example of what is wrong with the profession of marketing

Actual Bloomingdale's ad from December 2015

Actual Bloomingdale's ad from December 2015

When I was a teenager, one of the pieces of advice I remember my mother giving me time and time again was to never accept a drink from a stranger and to make sure I kept my drink with me at all times. This was to avoid anyone being able to slip something in there and prevent all the dangers that could happen. I thought this was pretty good advice. Imagine my surprise when in December, there was an ad campaign for Bloomingdale's that promoted slipping something in someone's drink. In a holiday ad for the company, featuring a man and woman with the man "creepily" and " menacingly" looking at the woman in her holiday attire with the tagline "spike a friend's eggnog when they're not looking".


Yes, I have expressed outrage over social media posts before and will probably do so again but I am so baffled by this one as a marketer. How is it possible that a room full of people saw this ad, the image, the copy and not ONE SINGLE person questioned whether or not it was a good idea?

how is this possible?

I have been in meetings with people to approve an ad and had multi hour meetings to discuss whether the wrinkle on a forehead or shadow on a cheek should be removed but this gets barely a secondary glance?
Now, there has been quite a lot of outrage in 2015 over a variety of different marketing campaigns or slogan t-shirts, red coffee cups that we could argue if "political correctness" has gone too far but this is not one of those instances. As with the family holiday card with women duct taped I posted about in December, how can anyone argue that this is a good or funny idea?

That's it? 

That's it? 

Bloomingdale's, in true "QUICK PR TACTIC" thinking released a statement on Twitter to apologize. First of all, you didn't hear "feedback", the public was not expressing concern over "sizing" or the colors you chose for your campaign. The public expressed OUTRAGE and DISGUST at the not so subtle advertising you CHOSE that promotes a culture of rape and abuse towards women.

BUT....well if you apologize then everything is better right? Where is the accountability Bloomingdale's? Yes, this ad was "inappropriate" or JUST PLAIN WRONG and IRRESPONSIBLE.  Poor taste? Isn't that sugar coating things just a bit? I mean let's really take a look at this ad and what it is conveying to women all over this country, who, by the way are the same people who have built your business by shopping in your stores...remember 80% of all purchases are influenced by women?

In the ad you see a lovely young woman who appears to be enjoying herself. You also see a man who does't actually seem to be enjoying himself at all. He is not engaging with the woman in any way, they do not look like friends at all. In fact he is "leering" at her. The image conveys no familial "best friend" relationship either, instead it looks like just about every "stalker" portrayed on Law & Order SVU each week, only he is handsome. OH WAIT, is that the deal? Because he is handsome, the woman should be more than okay with him "spiking her eggnog"? I mean what woman wouldn't want such a handsome man paying attention to her? If you cannot sense my anger and sarcasm here, let me assure you I am being sarcastic and I am quite angry.

I am going to put anger aside for a moment to try and understand this. As a marketer, your job is to appeal to consumers that have the potential to buy your products, shop at your stores and support your brand. I think we can all agree on that simplified definition. Bloomingdale's, like many high end department stores are known for appealing to affluent women. You can make that assumption simply by walking in to these stores and the mix of product by gender. These stores typically have a much higher ration of women's products than men's. This alone should have caused some raised eyebrows when the campaign went around the table. I mean, what women is going to look at this and think "great ad, I need to go shop now"?

But 2012 Bloomingdale's was actually going after the affluent male consumer "Bloomingdale’s elevates in-store presence via BMW, GQ pop-up shops." Hmm...okay, that is 3 years ago but it could still be part of their strategy and with that approach to a male consumer, maybe they are less concerned with how a female might read this ad? But...even so, nobody said anything in that marketing meeting to raise concern over how this ad might be received? There is mention in this article about what a "good marketer" should be concerned with. I wonder if that quote was meant to be sarcastic?

With so many amazing marketing people looking for jobs in today's economy it continues to shock me that the people who continually get hired know nothing about consumer habits and thought processes. It amazes me that people still don't raise their hand when something is glaringly wrong. I realize that our profession isn't curing cancer but we still have a moral obligation to the people we market to. Yes, at the end of the day you could simplify the concept of marketing into the idea that it is JUST about selling a product or a brand but did this ad EVEN do that? Here in lies the struggle I have with our profession. We have to make numbers but we also have to be able to sleep at night knowing that we put something into the world that doesn't destroy it. 

Campaigns, words and imagery like this may get your name in the paper but do very little else. If you truly want to focus on the numbers and business growth then you have to think long term. How does something like this keep you in the game long term? It doesn't. It alienates your consumers old and new. 

25% or by someone women know in an intimate way while 5% are committed by a relative -    RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network

25% or by someone women know in an intimate way while 5% are committed by a relative - RAINN (Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network

Bloomingdale's, thank you for your apology but it does little to comfort me and the many woman in this country who are faced with the very real scenario of violence, rape and sexual assault in our lives every single day. The cause of this fear isn't just "strangers" and bad guys, it is the people we know, it is the people in our community. It isn't a funny joke or over-exaggeration, it is a real part of what we experience as women. The promotion, mocking and suggestion of anything that perpetuates this is not only offensive and disgusting but it is an irresponsible marketing and business practices that you should be ashamed of.

Don't apologize to us on Twitter and think that it is enough. Make a commitment to do something more. Show some accountability for your actions and the actions of your team. Make your marketing and executive team get educated on not just spreadsheets and numbers but of consumer segments, psychology, sociology and gender. Make a commitment to be responsible to your customers.

silencing women does not create peace on earth

I am taking a break from our goal setting challenge today because of a news story that has been making the rounds and causing some controversy.

Silencing the women in a family is not funny. 

Silencing the women in a family is not funny. 

A family from Louisiana decided to do something a little different for their Christmas card this year. Upon doing so a firestorm was created on social media . Before I go on, let me stress that in no way do I think that this family or photographer intended to promote violence against women (as many of the comments on social media elude to). I do however think that this points to a larger problem, this family didn't see why this image might be sending the wrong message

So, why is it the wrong message? This picture  creates the illusion that silencing women of all ages is okay.

it is not!

It implies that getting women to shut-up can be celebrated with a thumbs up.

it cannot!

It implies that silencing a woman can be laughed at with a witty tagline.

it cannot. 

Research shows that the first step to violence and terrorism against any group of people is that of dehumanizing them. Making them less than human by reducing them to a body part or an object, or even by silencing them. All of this is destructive but the silencing is the one that hits me the hardest.

It can be argued that most people are looking to be heard. What happens when we take that option away? When we take away a person's voice, we take away their ability to fight, to be heard, to be understood. We become less than in our own head. We become unhappy, unsatisfied, uninspired. 

Rather than ramble on about the research, check out this amazing series by    Jean Kilbourne    to learn more about gender in the media.

Rather than ramble on about the research, check out this amazing series by Jean Kilbourne to learn more about gender in the media.

Some of you may be reading this and think that I am giving this photo/concept way too much energy but you would be wrong. There is a wealth of evidence to back me up. 

I studied "communications" in school. I decided it had a broader reach than a traditional marketing degree. With this I chose to spend a large part of my time studying gender and kids. I knew that this is the direction that the business world was going and wanted to better understand the consumer that I would potentially be marketing too. I now work in marketing and realize the approach I took is rare. Very few if any marketers actually take course work focused on gender, psychology or sociology. Maybe a class here or there, but no real emphasis on it. This is why I struggle with my profession.  At it's core, marketing is convincing people to buy, do or act. It works with the psyche and what motivates people. It is great responsibility. 

Unfortunately, it seems sometimes like marketers are worse than the stereotypes of lawyers. I say that because in my experience very few people in marketing actually know anything beyond the "business" part of marketing. Marketing is so much more than that. It is about knowing how people think, what they desire and why and using that information for good. How can you do this if you don't know anything beyond the numbers?

Marketing shapes the way we look at the world, whether we like to admit it or not. Marketing and media shapes the way we see and feel about ourselves subconsciously, it convinces us what we want and what we need. Herein lies the responsibility. Do we use this power to do good and make the world better or do we use it to make a buck? Are they mutually exclusive? 

I would argue they are not.

From Killing Me Softly

From Killing Me Softly

We live in a visual society, one that puts emphasis on "seeing is believing". Instagram has exploded on the scene, as has Snap Chat and a number of other social networks that focus solely on imagery. A picture is worth a thousand words, right? If it is that how can we remain complacent with imagery like this family photo or any of the images on this post? How can we claim ignorance as to what these image are really saying?

How can you call yourself a marketer if you don't know how consumers digest the imagery and content you are putting in the universe?

my opinion? you can't.

I could continue to go on about this but realize this is an much bigger subject than a single blog post. So I will come down from my soap box for a minute and get back to the point Did this family have ill intent when creating this holiday card? of course not. Does it speaker to a larger problem in our society? Of course it does. I couldn't let today go by without at least addressing it. I won't apologize for this big soap box because I believe so full heartedly in it but I will work to better formulate my thoughts for future posts.


I would like to say one more thing regarding the "witty tagline" that says "peace on earth". The silencing of women will not create "PEACE ON EARTH". In fact, it is the attempted silencing of women that is causing so much destruction, war and terror on this place we called Earth. 

the economy of gender in day with the university of san francisco

This week I had the pleasure of being able to speak at the University of San Francisco. It was such a great experience to talk about "The Economy of Gender in Sports" with a group of people just embarking on the career as students in the Sports Marketing Master's Program. You can see how excited they are to start the next chapter and be part of an industry that they love. There is something contagious about that. It almost makes you want to go back. (I said ALMOST)

The part that excited me the most was seeing how many women were in the room. Traditionally sports hasn't been the most welcoming place for women but in the last decade or so things have slowly started to change and these women were proof of that. What struck me though was what followed my presentation. A number of the ladies came up to me (which is common after speaking) but it was what they said that was truly inspiring to me. 

One of the women explained that she had not previously known how she would fit into the industry and if it was the right place for her but seeing the data and information, she saw it and was excited about what that could mean for her future. Another said that she had always wanted to do this but that this just made it real. And yet another said that she had never been on the dge of her seet for a presentation before adn for this she was. The reason for this had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with the content. 

Often times as women, we know what we want to do or we know we want to do something but it is rare that we are able to see in advance where the opportunities are and how we can ft in and being able to share details of the industry and how women fit in allows women to see a path and have the confidence to move forward. It is not lost on me that I get to be the microphone for that cause. It is because of this I thought I would share a little bit of the information I shared with them to hopefully help you get inspired to get out there too.

with education comes opportunities and financial security, look how many women are getting educated, not just in the US but beyond.  - SOURCE:    Why She Buys by Bridget Brennan

with education comes opportunities and financial security, look how many women are getting educated, not just in the US but beyond.  - SOURCE: Why She Buys by Bridget Brennan

Interested Yet? Want to learn more? Have an event, company or occasion you need a speaker for? Let's talk, go to the HIRE ME page and connect with me.

P.S. One last thing. Major shout out to the University of San Francsico Sports Marketing Management program for inviting me to participate and the students in the program for having such a great dialog and reminding me why I do what I do.

a lil' swag goes a long way ... just ask Kanye

Yesterday I started a 5 day series that I am calling "5 in 5"  each day this week I will cover a different hurdle and tips for clearing them as we start climbing those ladders so that we can shatter those glass ceilings. It's a lot of work, so let's get started. First, a reminder of the topics the topics...

  • Sorry not sorry (Posted Monday August 3, 2015)
    • I"m here for a reason, get over it
  • A lil' swag goes a long way
    • Just ask Kanye
  • Eww, verbal diarrhea is so not cool
    • Seriously, dude, it's not a good look
  • I got shot gun, I called it
    • (and other ridiculous game you should learn to play)
  • Let em' hear you roar
    • (it's okay, we promise)

Today, we talk SWAG. Not the free stuff brands give out to convince you to like their product. I am talking about real swagger here. 

graceful confidence

First, a definition. Swagger is a hip-hop term that you are probably farmiliar with but I am putting a bit of a spin on my definition. You will notice I defined it as "graceful confidence". I did this because when we are talking workplace, hustle and purpose, there has to be a certain grace to your actions. You have to balance between being cocky, self assured, confident and a total jerk. If I had a visual for this it would be Sammy Davis Jr. and Gregory Hines. If you do not know who they are, shame on you.  They were both dancers, singers and actors who moved with a quiet, distinguished and definitely graceful confidence. There was something about it that was just.....well...

cool with out even knowing it. Don't believe me? Watch for yourself.

Ok, so what do tap dancers have to do with swag and what does swag have to do with the workplace?

It's simple, every single thing in the workplace comes down to one thing... confidence. With out it, you aren't going very far. But if you are a woman the rules are a bit different. 

There are studies out there that show identical resume's being looked over by people. The only difference was the name on the top of the resume, for example John vs. Jennifer. The men were always evaluated much more favorably than the women regardless of the gender of the person doing the evaluation. Studies range by occupation and industry but the result are startlingy similar.  All of the things that people use to describe men as competent and exception at work are the same traits that are used to say the women are not.

Negative words are more often used to describe a woman's performance. In many cases, the woman can't win. If she acts "like one of the guys" she is deemed unpleasant, aggressive, bossy etc. If she acts "like one of the girls" she is emotional, unstable, fickle. Talk about playing a game with a loaded deck.

I ran into the situation more than once during my career. I can pull out review after review that use the following adjectives to describe me:

  • too passionate
  • outspoken
  • aggressive
  • need to develop your leadership skills more
  • emotional
  • too invested in the job
  • bitchy or condescending, bossy, 
  • rub some people the wrong way
  • doing too much, other people are feeling "dwarfed" (yes that is a real quote)
  • "maybe take it down just one notch"

Sadly, this list could go on. It is this same list however that would have co-workers come to me for advice and bosses asking me to take lead, be an example and to grab the bull by the horns and get things done. All of my reviews in my career have been marked with an "exceeds expectations" and full raises/bonuses, you name it but the negative language you see above was also in all of them.

How do we then deal with this catch 22? I can only speak from my own personal experience and so I will share with you what I have experienced.

When all of this negative language is presented to you, find out what they would suggest you do to change it for the better. Ask you bosses questions. Questions and insight are powerful weapons. Use them to navigate the "aggression" which I call "confidence" to your advantage.

Don't just ask any questions though. Ask them tough question that require your superiors to have just as much responsibility for your success as you have. Ask what you can do. Ask for examples of when what you did or said could be perceived negative. You will start to see some patterns.

I noticed that the things they were complaining about were also the things they liked in other employees. So I did the comparison game. Now I do no normally recommend this but in this instance it made sense.

Seek out people in your organization that you admire, people who are hard working, have great reputations for getting things done and being effective leaders. Ask all of these people to coffee or lunch or even drinks. Now ask them questions as well.

When I did this I asked both the women and men the same questions.

What do you struggle with in the workplace if anything regarding your gender?

Is it hard to work in an office full of people of the opposite gender?

Got any tips for how to navigate the corporate structure with regards to these things?

When the women responded I started to see similarities. When I asked the men the same question I got a lot of blank and/or confused stairs and a question in return "I'm not sure I understand what you mean."

This was an interesting experiment and one I highly recommend. Next pull your bosses aside and ask some simple questions. Ask them to compare you to a male counterpart. GASP! right? Ask the following:

  • Am I more or less passionate than him?
  • Am I more of less aggressive than him?
  • Is my work better or worse than his?

When asked these questions, every single manager I asked answered "no" or in some instances "more and better". Well, that's not confusing at all. It's like the boys who says he likes you one day, then pulls on your pigtails the next day.

picture borrowed from

The cherry on top for me was the question below:

have you ever heard anyone in leadership use these same words to describe him?

do they call him a bitch?

Do they say he is bossy?

do they tell him to take it down a notch?

Blank stares, sit back in chairs, shadow of understanding comes across faces followed by a frantic brain scan to figure out what to say were typically the responses I received.

This is a long way to say that having the confidence to ask the questions and speak up when something isn't right is swag. It is graceful confidence because it is trying to determine where and if improvements truly need to be made. It puts the focus on the work and not the gender. 

I can not necessarily say after this happened, I no longer felt a gender bias at work. If that were the case, it would have been once boss I spoke to instead of multiple. However, I did notice in all cases, a different level of respect from those particular managers. In one case, my next review raved about all of the changes I had made to become a really "solid leader" of the team and that I had really taken the criticism to heart and made the necessary changes to go further in my career.

I swear to you, I changed nothing except the fact that I asked those questions. 

Sometimes we have to get people to see us in another light and sometimes you have to work your way around the path to get to the final destination. Do whatever works for you but don't shy away, get quiet and sit down in the corner. We gain nothing from shrinking into the background. Sometimes, you gotta get a little Kanye West up in the place (in the most respectful way possible of course.) So turn up your collar, put on those high heels (as my friend Suzanne just emailed me) and get your swagger on.

To the cool kids, hipsters and people in the hip-hop game, thanks for letting me borrow your slang for this. I realize I may not be the intended demographic for such language but it works and it resonated with me, so again ... no apologies, just thanks.

Have you ever got all Yeezy on a situation at work? Tell me about in the comments below or on social media using the hashtags

  • #kanyemademedoitdawne
  • #dawnehanksdotcom

Tomorrow we continue the series and just to prepare you, things may sound a little gross because we are talking about verbal diarrhea. I know, as Jimmy Fallon would say ...  EWW.