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?
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 wait...in 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.
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.