‘For her’: the most toxic phrase in branding right now

Our Abby’s not impressed with BIC’s range of ballpoint pens ‘For her’ (designed to fit a woman’s hand, and featuring an attractive pink and purple barrel design).

Gender-based branding is feeling the heat this week, as Amazon reviews for the new ‘For her’ pen range from BIC furiously rack up. A random selection:

WOMAN: ‘I quickly found a piece of notepaper with pictures of kittens round the edges and had a go at writing my name. It was amazing! The pen just stayed in place between my fingers, just like it always had for the boys in my class at school.’

MAN: ‘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.’

Humour aside, there’s a serious point to be made. It’s not like these are the first purple-pink, softly cushioned pens to be invented. It’s the incredibly glib byline, ‘For her’, that’s got everyone riled up. In fact, if BIC hadn’t used that phrase they’d have got away with it completely.

So what’s the problem? Aside from the fact that it’s utterly irrelevant if a pen is for a man or a woman, ‘For her’ irks the most because it implies BIC are doing women a favour. And it makes their brand team seem really out of touch with their customers, who are all probably fine with their harsh, angular, patriarchal writing implements.

The backlash is similar to the Femfresh hoo-hah a few months ago. I use ‘hoo-hah’ wryly, because it’s one of the names Femfresh chose to describe where their lady customers would apply their products (along with ‘froo froo’, ‘nooni’ and ‘la la’). I’m talking about vaginas. Their Facebook page was quickly bombarded with comments from people protesting against these infantilised euphemisms, and against a product that makes women feel ashamed about their bodies.

Both of these examples expose how outdated gender-based branding still is. Women don’t need either of these products, but companies think they can persuade them they do by using ‘feminine’ language.

Femfresh and BIC: get out of the 1950s. It really doesn’t wash.

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