“Products for women should be engineered, designed, colored, cushioned, and patterned to actually fit women and what we want; our music, our movies, and every sound.” This is the statement, smilingly recited by three women over a jingly, tambourine-laden indie rock backdrop, that surrounds SkullCandy’s launch of “headphones fine tuned for women.” And by fine-tuned, they don’t just mean color-coordinated and resized for comfort: they mean scientifically engineered to cater to differences in women’s hearing. Oh rly?
I take issue with a number of things here. The first is somewhat low-hanging fruit that, given past highly-publicized kerfuffles, one might think companies would avoid; the manufacture of products for the finer sex when use and enjoyment of said products is not actually dependent on gender. I had not realized I needed to coordinate my chromosomes with my choice of headphone or that the androgynous set I’m currently rocking isn’t adequately serving the “cleaner bass and very natural sounding vocals that… ladies prefer.” Thank goodness someone’s got my lady-like auditory predispositions in mind!
But diatribe be damned; I’m, for better or for worse, very used to sexism-masquerading-as-gender-catering in marketing campaigns. I won’t add to the slew of articles bemoaning this phenomenon. Instead, I’ve got a much more specific bone to pick.
Full disclosure: I’m an ad woman through and through. I watch commercials on my computer and trawl the net for neat print ads and interesting interactive executions. I’ve encountered my fair share of aggressively anti-female advertising that Skullcandy doesn’t begin (and wouldn’t want) to hold a candle to, as well as insipid, veiled appeals to femininity that some might argue more insidiously reinforce notions of gender divides. Despite my transient residence in the ivory tower, my stance on these sorts of things is less ideological and more pragmatic. Segmenting a market and defining a product’s target audience in part by gender is, in my book, not so objectionable. I don’t think marketing to women is bad or wrong, nor do I believe that explicitly labeling things as “women’s” products is inherently problematic. Advertising is driven on emotions and fulfillment of desires and needs; one’s portfolio of wants can be impacted by gender or sex. Sometimes, appealing to that angle is the smart path to take.
But there’s a right way and a wrong way to frame and phrase advertising. Exceptional production values aside, I think Skullcandy’s missing the mark. They’re close—so close—to knocking this thing out of the park, but there’s a tactical judgment they’ve made that has the potential to unravel the campaign altogether. What I’m referencing is the umbrella-strategy that undergirds the flowery patterns, exhortations to “#RAISEHELL,” and website callouts that read “you know you’re a dime”: identity marketing that explicitly articulates perceived beliefs of the target audience and, in doing so, reflects imagined needs and stances that may not align with what the target actually believes or wants.