Summer’s Eve and their advertising company just do not get it. Please take a look at this relevant graph:
Once again, in case you missed it, you fucked up. You fucked up by making an ad that is both racist and sexist and by branding it as empowerment.
“What do you mean sexist? Racist, too?! I have black friends! Nothing is racist until I say it is!”
The article on AdWeek hits on a couple of good points, and contains a response (from the Richards Group, the advertising group employed by Summer’s Eve to make this campaign) to the backlash against the ads.
There is something to be said for advertising that does not default to representing clients as white (and that something is generally, “Great!”), so I can see how in some initial brainstorming session, someone said, “Let’s represent black and Latina clients in this campaign!” Presumably, that is when the Richards Group’s “in house multi-cultural experts confirmed the approach.”
Sometimes, what does not come off as racist to one person (or fifty people) comes off as REALLY racist to another. In the comments on the linked article, someone from the Richards Group said that there are about 20 people who work specifically on these types of things and more uncounted people of color working across the board. Even if 50 people of color in the Richards Group said, “okay!” to the whole shebang, 50 is a comparatively small number, and no, that 50 is not qualified to speak for everyone. Other people are still perfectly entitled to be offended by the racial stereotypes in the commercials. Frankly, I still don’t understand how anyone green-lighted any part of this.
There is also the issue of using three separate commercials. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making separate commercials featuring actresses of different races doing their thing. There IS a problem with 1. reducing them to their vaginas and 2. making said vaginas reproachful, bossy stereotypes. With that approach, making three separate commercials divides women by race and puts each set of stereotypes in the spotlight.
And this brings me to another good point: that any ad campaign about feminine hygiene products is bound to elicit a strong response. Yeah. This is a good point. Perhaps, after last year’s debacle, and the Richards Group’s acknowledgement that it is easy to ruffle feathers when advertising feminine hygiene products, Summer’s Eve should not have been so ready to launch a large-scale viral campaign. For the record, I’m not sure I have a problem with advertising a product that is just a glorified baby wipe for the vagina- not an inherent problem anyway. Yes, it is pointless, but most products are. I, and other people who have written about the campaign, have a problem with these ads in particular. There is a considerably less offensive way to do this: less offensive to people of color and to women and vaginas in general.
On that note, though…:
The more important mission is to get women talking about taboo topics and we hope these negative sentiments don’t overshadow that effort.”
Taboo topics, eh? Do you mean to say that women suffer a loss when they don’t talk about how gross their vaginas are? And getting them to talk about how vaginas are gross and demand attention to rectify their grossness is a noble mission? Because that is kinda what I am getting from that. Trust me, nobody needs to tell me that vaginas sweat and secrete things and occasionally don’t smell like a bed of roses. I know that. I would venture to say that anyone who owns a vagina or frequently comes in contact with vaginas or can think critically about the human body knows that. But you want us to talk about vaginas? Well hey, I’m a sex educator! I can talk about vaginas all day!
So let’s talk about it!: vaginas don’t smell like dewy grass in the summer or a fruity cocktail on a cruise ship or anything like that. Sometimes they smell musky. Sometimes they smell sweaty. Sometimes they don’t smell like much at all. If the smell of your vagina really horrifies you, talk to a doctor, because sometimes a really bad smell indicates that there is a problem, and not the kind of problem you can solve by using Summer’s Eve. I repeat: no real vaginal ailment can be cured by using a fancy, targeted cleaner OR by douching (especially douching, which will probably cause more problems!). To clean it on a regular basis, use clean water and mild soap, rinse out the nooks and crannies on the inner and outer lips and for fuck’s sake do not put any cleaning products inside it. DONE. TA-DA. I’m talking about it! Are you happy?!
While I’m at it…
The larger problem for Summer’s Eve is that many women see douching products themselves, and any marketing of them, as anti-woman—i.e., creating a feeling of shame around the issue of cleanliness, then selling the antidote to the shame. Casting the process as female empowerment, it seems, is particularly galling.
Summer’s Eve and Richards Group, pay attention. Read that very carefully. Put on a plaque on the wall if you have to. Because that sums it all up perfectly. You are not going to get away from this one.