Fast Co.—Why do companies keep making offensive pink products "for her"?

In October, the Eurostar Group introduced a product called The ePad Femme—an eReader just for women. It sells for $190, and it comes preloaded with stereotypically feminine apps, which seem to revolve around fitness, cooking, and man-pleasing. It is, of course, pink. Eurostar Group is a Dubai-based company, and the tablet received little attention in the U.S. until the past week or two, when bloggers picked up an article in theJerusalem Post about how Eurostar was marketing the tablet as a Valentine’s Day gift. Cue the understandable outrage at such a sexist product.

This opprobrium happens every time there’s a goofy product marketed as something “for women”: Check out the Bic Cristal Pen for Her, the Della computer for women, and Honda’s car for women for debacles similar to the ePad Femme kerfuffle. And even marketers who aren’t creating a bespoke product for women seem to cling to some jaw-droppingly retrograde notions about women’s behavior vis-à-vis their existing product and women’s lives in general--witness Samsung’s embarrassing Galaxy S4event, which featured a group of drunk ladies preoccupied with weight loss and marrying doctors.

Since the public response to the pinkification of gender-neutral products seems, at face value, to be universally negative, we were wondering, why do companies keep making these things? We asked Jonah Disend, CEO at the brand development firm Redscout, and Gina Reimann, director of industrial design at Redscout, to clue us in on why Eurostar might have created the ePad Femme.

Reimann says these kinds of products are examples of “marketing briefs gone wrong.” Disend imagined a scenario in which a company found that 60 percent of their product’s users were men, and the company wanted to remedy that. They wanted to appeal to the female market, and according to Reimann, the quick and thoughtless design fix to make something “female” is to make it pink and say it’s “for her.” “Consumers are so much more savvy and so aware they’re being marketed to,” Disend says. “They see through [the pink]. It’s insincere.”

There are products, though, that are successfully marketed to women without a backlash (or without the same level of backlash), and they even use the same silly language that products like the eFemme reader get slammed for--see Gillette’s line of Venus razors (“a choice for every goddess” gushes the online ad copy). The trick here, says Reimann, is that marketers have emphasized a legitimate, not insulting difference between women and men. Which is to say, men are shaving their faces with razors, while women are shaving their legs. Though you could easily use a “man’s” razor on your legs, it’s not insulting to say that the two acts are different from each other. Contrast that with the marketing push behind the ePad Femme. The pre-loaded apps are telling the female consumer, “we don’t think you’re smart enough to download apps by yourself.”

It’s possible to market something to women that is explicitly for women, even a gender-neutral product, successfully and without being offensive. You just need to do it with panache. Jonah Disend cites Bethenny Frankel’s Skinnygirl cocktails and wines as a great example of a product that has disrupted the market by focusing only on one half of the population. “It’s not trying to be anything else,” Disend says of Skinnygirl, “It’s very honest about it.” And consumers pick up on that.

But Skinnygirl’s outsize sales show why companies will keep making products just for women: because there’s money to be made. But to make a successful product, companies have to offer something that actually serves a purpose and they have to pay attention to the nuances of positioning the product and the product itself, instead of just the dollar signs.

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