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BIC pens FOR HER! (How not to market to women)

October 8, 2012 Graeme Codrington Case Studies and Stories, Diversity, Innovation, Strategy No Comments

Bic produces pens. They’re ubiquitous. You’ve probably had many of their cheap plastic offerings lying around, rolling around in drawers or down the side of your sofa. Bic recently launched a new range which they thought would be perfect for some of their customers, but it’s brought them a deluge of criticism. The new range of pens is called “for her” (buy some at Amazon.co.uk).

The advertisement reads: “Designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand”, with “an attractive barrel design available in pink and purple”. That’s remarkable in 2012 – that a company thinks this is what women want. I am prepared to bet quite a large amount of money that there were no women on this team at Bic. Amazon reviews from the target market are not flattering. Mrs S Rose wrote: “Oh at last, I feel all woman. I have used other pens in the past but have always been left feeling lost, alone and on the edge of accepted society.” And Ingrid Moon wrote: “These pens actually make me feel liberated! At last my delicate feminine needs and tastes are being considered!”

My favourite client review is long, but its beautiful irony makes it worth reading. ‘Shelf Life’ writes:

After suffering debilitating gender-based paranoia for many years due to my large hands, interest in science and ability to make my own decisions, I became convinced that even though I was born and live as woman, society would never accept me. My life was a battle but I fought on, between bouts of hormonal weeping and watching endless romcoms and DVD boxsets of ‘Friends’, yet was unable to connect as a woman or find that elusive romance or ‘friend’. I subscribe to all the women’s magazines, buy all the latest beauty products, still all I have added to my life is a pile of old magazines and bottles of vegetable oil based lotions. Nothing was working.

Then, my sister came to my house one day to find out why I had not attended our weekly trip to the salon, only to find me lying among the cupcakes I had lovingly made her, curled in the feotal position and rythmically rubbing my body with an unplugged Ladyshave. Seeing my despair at the harsh reality of not being feminine enough, she wept as she bathed me in a scented bubble bath. Leaving me alone with a chocolate bar to eat seductively, she crept out and sourced me a small pack of BiC Cristal for her.


Within moments I was able to sit unassisted again. I brushed and even swung my newly washed hair, and my tears slowly dried as I added layer upon layer of beauty product, using the pens to mark which worked and didn’t. I wrote a to-do list named ‘The start of the rest of your life.’ I truly did start living that day.

Then, a few nights later I noticed a silvery blue light coming from my desk. The pens were glowing, ethereal, like an aura of woman was pulsating from their inner ink tubes. I looked out of the window, and sure enough a full moon was glowing. Just as the moon affects the tides which draw our mentrual cycles around, the Cristal BiC were responsing with an unworldly glow to the feminine mystery of the moon. I swept them into my hands and wrote job applications to be a model, responded to dating ads and wrote letters to long lost family. All of them were successful. I now have a handsome partner, am admired for my looks, have lots of friends to have brunch with and am more sexually satisfied than ever.

Which is why once a month you will hear me loud and clear shouting, nay rejoicing at the moon: “I am a BiC Cristal owner: I AM WOMAN!”

Would have been five stars but the packaging’s quite hard to get into without a man around. 4/5

I think you get the idea: this was not a good idea.

Don’t be too hard on Bic. Other companies have taken a long time to come to terms with the “women’s market” too. Nike, for example, launched their first specifically targeted women’s shoe only in 2001. Up to then, women’s shoes at Nike had basically been smaller men’s shoes (and often pink). Not until the 21st century did Nike realise that women’s feet ARE in fact different from men’s and needed their own technology. Bic must have thought they could pull the same trick. Women’s hands are smaller right? And they LOVE pink, right?

Nike took too long, but got it right. Bic took longer, and still got it wrong.

HINT: There is an easy way to not make this mistake: Actually speak to some women before embarking on a campaign that is aimed at women!

Thanks to Alan Stevens for bringing my attention to this gaffe in his excellent free weekly ezine, “The MediaCoach”, available at www.mediacoach.co.uk.

UPDATED ON 2 MARCH 2014: Here’s a great video from Ellen Degeneres on this product:


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Dr Graeme Codrington, co-founder of TomorrowToday, author, speaker and expert on the changing world of work
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