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Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Right Stuff

Today I digress back into the merchandise world.  Although most of my career was spent providing brand-name merchandise for incentive and promotional marketing campaigns, I did spend a fair amount of time selling promotional products.  That industry is particularly sensitive about their cost-effective advertising specialty or promotional products being referred to as "trinkets and trash" or "tchotchkes".  I'm reminded of this as I read a piece forwarded on Twitter.

A female conference attendee shared a photo on Instagram of the "swag" that was provided by Goldman-Sachs to this group of women engineers at a WE Code event held at Harvard.  She questioned whether the nail file and mirror provided to the engineer attendees signified "sexy feminism" or "gender stereotyping".

I'm not going to go all Feminista over this; it's probably neither one. When I was in this world, I sat in many meetings where high-level male corporate types brainstormed ideas about what audiences (of which they were not a member) might appreciate.  In fact, Buyers inserting their own preferences into the reward selection process was the #1 mistake that was most often repeated.  It's not limited to women:  50/60-year olds would presume what 20-something college interns would appreciate; 30-something managers would be selecting retirement gifts for employees, etc.

Here's my educated guess as to how it went down:  Someone at Goldman-Sachs said, "Hey, we're sponsoring this meeting of women engineer coders over at Harvard and they need something for the swag bag.  What should we do?"  Boss/co-worker/subordinate said, "The audience is women - they (or we?) use nail files & mirrors, order some of those with our logo on them".

I sincerely hope that a Promotional Products Distributor was not involved in this thought process - I trust that the industry has progressed beyond that.  An effective promotional product would have a purpose:  reinforce the services or product, tie in the conference messaging or at the very least, be appropriate to the venue (Something about Harvard, the geography, etc.).  A nail file and mirror does not relate to either the services of Goldman-Sachs or the purpose of the event - it ONLY relates to the gender of the attendee.  (Not saying that men don't use nail files or mirrors - just that you probably won't find Goldman-Sachs handing those out to male engineers at a coding conference).

It is very disconcerting that there are still articles on "marketing to women".  Yes, as a market sector, we have different concerns than men, but that doesn't mean they're all frivolous.  Painting a product pink does not magically make it appeal to women.  And that reminds me....

A few years ago I received a sample copy of a magazine that was geared toward working women.  It would contain articles that concern managing home and work, provide advice about office politics, some entrepreneurial advice, etc.  The title of the magazine was, "Pink".  I couldn't write the editor fast enough.  Yes, I would read the magazine and Yes, I was the perfect target customer for the magazine, but why on earth would you call it "Pink" - let's just take about a 50-year step backward.  They published my letter in the next issue with a carefully crafted response as to why they chose that name for the magazine: almost tongue-in-cheek about the stereotype.  That magazine is no longer in existence, by the way.

Even though I no longer sell merchandise and have no horse in this race, PLEASE, if you are a buyer of such items, give it a little thought.  Maybe ask someone that is in the age/gender/economic group you're targeting and take an official or informal poll.

It's very likely that many of the women attending the conference will use the nail file and mirror. The point is that Goldman-Sachs missed an opportunity to demonstrate that they understood more about this audience than their gender.

To companies large and small:  EVERYTHING you do is representative of your brand.  As Goldman-Sachs is finding as this photo makes its way through the blogosphere, even something as insignificant as a "trinket" can have a big impact.

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