Dear marketers, stop trying to sell sexism. You're failing.
"Men everywhere can now rejoice as their wives and girlfriends finally have a way to track their time of the month." I received this pitch email for the MyPeriod Tracker app this week. "How many ruthless fights have been started due to lack of empathy from the husband because he had no idea what type of mood he was coming home to?"
It's 2015 and this kind of utterly embarrassing marketing still exists. Keep reading — it gets worse.
The subject line contained the phrase "PMS & Men," which hinted at the email's contents. The app was created by none other than five (five) men who "were tired of the drama, discourse and sometimes absurd fights." The app would help "relinquish the fear and confusion of men, and allow women to be more tuned into their own cycle and symptoms."
As an added bonus, it could help women. You know, the ones who actually have periods.
But here's the clincher: The app "was borne out of our need for survival and to better understand and be able to support our wives," one of the creators, Vinay Golchha, is quoted as saying. So, reading between the lines: During PMS, women are violent and incomprehensible, and men need to introduce this app into their relationships in order to physically come out alive?
This approach is sexist, foolish and — sadly — entirely too common for the time we live in. It deserves to be roundly criticized.
Some sweet clip art to really hammer home the idea that women are mean during "that time of the month."
Let's talk about periods. The menstrual cycle is a normal biological process — a sign of reproductive health for the half of the global female population that experiences it at a given time. And yet there's a dangerous culture of stigma and isolation surrounding menstruating women, especially in various developing communities where taboos can inhibit hygiene and access to education.
But as this tone-deaf pitch reminds us, menstrual stigma and stereotypes are rampant in the developed world, too. It proves that many brands and marketing teams still don't understand female consumers, who account for 85% of all consumer purchases.
When I actually examined the app page in iTunes, the description was completely devoid of this kind of language. It's geared toward women as a useful health app — "a personalized and easy to use app to track, monitor and manage your menstrual cycle."
So what the hell was this email all about? Was it a stunt? A tactic targeted to male journalists, hoping to catch a dude-bro writer on a good day and get some extra press? Apparently not: One of my female colleagues received the exact same pitch — to her personal email address, no less.
"That almost makes it worse, because then it's like false advertising," Marlea Clark, SVP of marketing at Women's Marketing, tells Mashable. "With the amount of money and purchasing power that's supposed to have, it really seems particularly misguided in 2015, as most marketers are looking at how they can attract more women."
And men, too, clearly. At a time when more and more men are finally standing up for gender equality and women's rights, this kind of approach is especially ill-considered. If they had done a little research on my work, maybe they wouldn't have pitched the wrong guy.
Brands and marketers really need to know their audiences. Andrea Van Dam, Women's Marketing's CEO, says the most successful campaign for women was probably Dove's "Real Beauty" campaign, which really resonated with female consumers. In contrast, brands like Victoria's Secret and Guess often rely on stereotypes, failing to appeal to women's intelligence.
"Women today, we're so much smarter. We're far more sophisticated than that. Women are powerful, but we're becoming that much more powerful in business, and making more purchase decisions than ever before," Van Dam says.
That doesn't mean humor is off the table. Both Clark and Van Dam entertain the idea that the MyPeriod Tracker pitch may have been intended as a joke, but it totally falls flat.
"Women have great senses of humor. It can be cheeky, but not when you start speaking down to women or mock them ... You can have humor, but it should be with a sense of warmth, not with a sharp elbow in the ribs," Clark says.
“Is this a stunt?” I ask MyPeriod Tracker publicist Diana Ziskin, who sent the offending email.
No, she responds. It's honest. “The way MyPeriod Tracker App is being marketed is from the founders coming from an honest place of saying, ‘Look, as men this is a challenge we were often coming up against, so we are willing to bet that other men do as well. Here is our take on a solution to that problem,'" she says.
“It also happens to be a win-win for women, and for couples in general, as it helps women to better identify when maybe they are not reacting to a situation as they normally would, setting off a chain reaction that could possibly be averted."
Problem is, that sort of makes it worse. Despite the fact that Ziskin is doing her job and backing her client, it reminds me of other misguided marketing attempts that seem to take cues from the 1950s. Recent examples include Nine West's "Starter Husband Hunting" shoe campaign, and ZzzQuil's "Sleep like he finally proposed" ad, which has since been deleted.
— Nine West (@NineWest) August 1, 2014
— Miss Representation (@RepresentPledge) January 26, 2015
Overt misogyny isn't the only issue. Sometimes brands and the marketing teams behind products are more respectful of women, but still misunderstand the contemporary female consumer.
For instance, MyPeriod Tracker isn't the only app in the App Store focusing on the menstrual cycle — there are hundreds. The demand for period trackers is huge, helping women track their cycles, plan pregnancy and stay organized.
While these apps likely have better marketing techniques than MyPeriod Tracker, most have at least one other thing in common: icons with pink flowers.
Image: Screenshot, iTunes
These apps' designs are overtly and stereotypically feminine. A big part of their marketing strategies, the icons live on the home screen and are highly visible every time they're used. As one of my female colleagues said when she saw the selection, "Chill out. We get it, this is for women."
Van Dam and Clark say this is a big problem in women's marketing overall, and it stems from the gendered toy aisle: pink for girls, blue for boys.
"I don't think [women-focused] companies should be anything close to pink and floral. It actually really makes me angry, because it's so ... powerless. Those that lack creativity go to those types of colors and icons as a default, because we've all been trained that way," Van Dam says.
The upside? She believes there's a movement happening now, a shift away from the MyPeriod Tracker brand strategies of the world. The primary ground rule is: Don't stereotype.
In the meantime, Van Dam has some simple advice for the five men who created the app.
"Why don't you try something different?"
And don't assume all men think like you. I sure as hell don't.
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