Ink Stains

30 08 2012

We live in dangerous times. In days of old, whenever we experienced something with which we did not like agree, we simply told our friends, family and acquaintances. These stories spread slowly, if at all.

Today, all it takes is a few posts and it’s Katie bar the door.

As a researcher of corporate communication crises, I have seen a lot. Last December, Lowe’s Home Improvement got its backside kicked after it dropped its ads on TLC’s All-American Muslim. Thousands and thousands of people posted their (dis)approval on the Lowe’s Facebook page, with the vast majority being those who despised the action. What did Lowe’s do? It ran from the controversy and simply deleted all 28,000 comments.

Yeah, smart move. Lowe’s a bunch more heat, and then wound up launching a new thread with a fresh apology for the initial debacle.

A few weeks later, the Susan G. Komen Foundation stepped on a landmine when it pulled funding from Planned Parenthood. Once again, the social graph lit up and howled its disapproval. SGK more or less ignored it, and to their great harm, for donations and race participation this year are down up to 30% in some markets.

The latest to fall into the social media trap is Bic with Bic For Her pens. While they have been available online at Amazon for nearly two years, it is only recently that citizen reviewers started lambasting Bic for insulting women with special pens. Worse yet, Bic has no Twitter presence, and has thus far ignored comments on Facebook.

To ignore social media in 2012 is courting disaster. Companies cannot afford to dwell in the halcyon days of a Facebook-free internet. It is here, and it will hurt you if you do not attend to it.

Never mind what the heck Bic was thinking in the first place by offering pens for females. Are women somehow unable to write with “man pens?” Do women need different colored pens? In other words, are there legitimate reasons why women would prefer these pens over, say, a regular old ballpoint pen?

Now before you start citing instances in which companies have successfully marketed male and female versions of similar products (Bic comes to mind, in fact, for male and female razors), it is highly unlikely that there are sufficient differences between the sexes to warrant a full-on marketing effort to sell gender-specific pens.

If all Bic wanted to do was perhaps appeal to women with more “feminine” colors, they could have done so without drawing attention to the packaging. Lego made a similar mistake earlier this year when it launched a line of pastel-colored blocks for girls, but made a big deal of it. The simpler path would have been, for both companies, to just sell the same product in multiple colors. End of story. Let the boys and girls figure out what they like. If a little boy (or grown man) prefers softer colors, so be it, or if a little girl (or woman) likes bold colors, then more power to her.

But for Bic to be completely aloof in the social media era is just risky business. The biting sarcasm on the Amazon page is telling, and Amazon is not appear to have any intention of removing those comments.

And if you’ll be careful to not slip on the irony, in many ways Bic is penning its own future. Except that they handed the writing instrument over to the masses. Allowing them to write the ending to a story is just plain stupid.

Dr “Write On” Gerlich

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