Imagine you’re a brand that is so successful in a global near-commodity sector that you’ve arguably moved beyond brand status to become (in some parts of the world at least) part of the
language -- rather like Kleenex but different.
In some parts of the world, the brand doesn’t get mentioned, but the product sells in vast quantities all the same. There are a raft of challenges associated with this sort of situation. While some of them undoubtedly relate to branding, for the brand manager, one of the most compelling issues will be how to drive incremental use and sales in a commodity space.
One can only assume that was the sort of thing Société Bic, the French manufacturer of disposable razors and ballpoint pens, were dealing with when they --or someone they paid handsomely -- came up with the groundbreaking idea to create and market a new line of ballpoints called “Bic Crystal for Her."
Yes, ladies, these are the very things you’ve been waiting your entire lives for -- handy disposable pens that are designed with you in mind. And which, one presumes, make writing so much easier for women!
Apparently, they are designed specifically to “fit a woman’s hand” and they come in pink and purple.
Of course they do.
Predictably, there has been something of a reaction to this great innovation in the world of writing, but perhaps not quite in the form one might expect. After all, these days, when scarcely a week goes by without news of another company falling foul of consumer sentiment and being ravaged in social media and enduring the death of a million tweets.
But for Bic -- so far at least -- things seem to have taken an altogether different turn. Despite looking extensively, I have yet to find a serious comment about sexism, gender stereotyping and the rest, which you would think would be the first port of call for those objecting to the notion of a simple pen designed for women.
Instead, those seeking to make a point have resorted exclusively to humor and irony -- and they’ve done so in large numbers.
Neither have they chosen Facebook or Twitter (yet) as a means of attack.
Instead, it is the normally safe and cozy environs of Amazon (in the UK) where mostly British consumers are posting mock reviews of the product. They are having what is clearly a great time, making the product and it’s parent company a laughingstock.
As I write, there are almost 190 often long and almost always very funny (and deeply sarcastic) “reviews."
Apart from anything else, we may have found a new kind of crowdsourcing for Jay Leno’s material each night. Who needs highly paid writers when you can get material for free from Amazon? The humor of crowds, indeed.
I urge you to take the time to read at least some of the reviews. Firstly, you’ll enjoy it, but also because it’s worth considering that even at the shelf of the online store, a brand is never safe from consumer sentiment, whether expressed as a direct and hostile verbal assault or as barbed satire.
To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time we’ve seen such an occurrence
within Amazon, where brands and products rule the day, but it probably won’t be the last.
As for damage to the business, in the long term it will probably be negligible. Bic may even bring out a companion product that oozes masculinity to ride whatever wave it's created. No doubt the Bic For Her will take it’s share within the billions of pens Bic sell globally.
Here a few of my favorite excerpts from the “reviews posted so far:
“I bought this pen (in error, evidently) to write my reports of each day's tree felling activities in my job as a lumberjack. It is no good. It slips from between my calloused, gnarly fingers like a gossamer thread gently descending to earth between two giant redwood trunks.”
“Thank you, Bic. The touch of these pens has put me back in touch with my femininity and in doing so, I have fully embraced what it is to be a woman, in all its purple glory. I fully surrender to true womanhood and vow to no longer take part in feminist movements. I now realize we should not strive for equality, but focus on what we do best, being pretty, to the point that any tool we use must be decorative and gorgeous.”
“I now have the perfect writing utensil whilst out in the field. As an archaeologist, all I need now is a pink shovel and pink trowel and my professional life will be complete!”