Who needs a reduced-calorie, reduced-alcohol spirit during a pandemic? According to Bacardi, women do. Judging from the social media response, women strongly disagree.
Plume and Petal, Bacardi’s newest spirit line is described as “designed by women, for today’s modern woman, intended to be enjoyed with other women.” The reduced-calorie, reduced-alcohol, fruit-flavored vodka was said to be “spa-inspired.” Women, insulted by the gendered-branding are speaking out, and now Bacardi is walking back the branding saying the products are “not for women specifically.”
Food and Wine editor Khushbu Shah tweeted a screenshot of the message she received from one of Bacardi’s PR representatives. Shah’s reaction? “ah yes just what I need in 2020! gendered drinks with half the alcohol.” Others on social media soon chimed in condemning Bacardi for their gendered language. “Damn. I would definitely have tried it if I was allowed to drink it with men. Thought we were over this,” tweeted @AmyDistilled regarding the new spirits.
In response to the backlash, Bacardi told the DailyMail, “We are aware of the conversations on social media around the use of gendered language in a pitch. We’re not proud of that, but we are proud of the female creators behind this product—unfortunately, a rarity in this industry—and we are proud of this great tasting drink.’ .
Why is the gendered language a problem? Let’s start with reduced-calorie. Choosing low-calorie food and drink is clearly a healthy choice for both men and women. But when reduced-calorie products are pitched as “for women,” it implies that women should be more concerned about their weight and physical appearance than men. It implies that women are judged by how they look. It’s objectifying. Suggesting that women sit around the spa with their friends sipping fruity vodka drinks also plays into gender stereotypes.
Other retailers have gone in the opposite direction, reducing their gendered marketing in recent years. Retail giant Target did away with their pink aisles and marketing certain toys to girls and boys in 2015, and the Disney Store stopped labeling its children’s Halloween costumes by gender, labeling all outfits “for kids” and removing gendered markers on lunchboxes, backpacks and accessories. Amazon also no longer uses gender-based categories for children’s toys
Bacardi is not the first to think that using stereotypes to market products to women is a good idea. Pepsi ex-CEO, Indra Nooyi got in hot water after suggesting Pepsi was considering marketing special Dorito chips directly to women. She told the Freakonomics podcast, “They [women] don’t like to crunch too loudly in public,” she said. “And they don’t lick their fingers generously, and they don’t like to pour the little broken pieces and the flavor into their mouth.” Social media slammed the idea subsequently labeled ‘Lady Doritos.’
Bic suffered similar criticism when it launched a female pen line. The “Bic for Her” pens which came in pink and purple were purportedly designed specifically for women. Ellen Degeneres mocked the female product, “We’ve been using man pens all these years, ugh.” (For more reasons why gendered pens are ridiculous, check out the product reviews on Amazon.)
There are times when gendered products are helpful, and that’s when they reflect true biological differences between men and women. In the current pandemic, there’s evidence that the one-size-fits-all PPE that is really designed to fit men is loose-fitting on women and leaves women more exposed to the virus. The design of truck cabins and airplane cockpits are often too large for women to operate comfortably. And when it comes to new drugs, women were largely excluded from clinical trials until the 1990’s. If marketing folks want to focus on products that will truly help women, they can start with some of these.