Aug 12, 2015

‘Look Like A Girl. Think Like A Man’: The BIC Blunder, Making A Case For Brand Police Everywhere


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In today’s overly connected world, one Facebook post gone wrong can take down an entire brand. What you say can and will be used against you, especially if the people’s court of Twitter has anything to do with it. This is the case for BIC, the international pen company whose South African contingent made the decidedly questionable decision on the country’s National Women’s Day encouraging women to “think like a man.”

The infamous ad, posted on its Facebook page, shows a smiling woman in a suit with arms folded. It read: “Look like a girl. Act like a lady. Think like a man. Work like a boss. #HappyWomensDay.”

The company was quick to retract the post with an apology, but the damage had clearly been done, and the apology left people unconvinced.

BIC Women's Day

Among those taking to Twitter was feminist activist Caroline Criado-Perez, who tweeted:“What fresh hell is this” and “srsly, ‘think like a man’…*stabs eyes out with bic pen*”.

Another commented: “My boss is a woman, but she doesn’t think like a man, or dress like a girl. Should I confiscate all her pens?” The terms “sexist,” “disgusting” and “offensive” were themes of the day, appearing in thousands of Tweets worldwide.

This isn’t the first time the brand has found itself in hot water, with a launch of “Bic for Her” writing utensils (designed specifically for every delicate creature with tiny lady-hands.)

From a strategic perspective, we have to ask: exactly where do you draw the line at targeting? When it comes to social media, content targeting can effectively reach users with specific mindsets, habits, and tastes that align with your brand, and your target persona. But the world has rapidly changed since the golden age of advertising, and political correctness from a corporate standpoint has never been so rigid. Alienating people based on their gender or sexual preferences is a tight rope to walk and poses a challenge in conveying an authentic message.

And from a broader messaging standpoint, how can a global enterprise like BIC keep tabs on their various social media channels to ensure something like this doesn’t happen again? This is just one of many examples that drive mega-brands to have a singular set of social media accounts that can easily be managed by a core team. But can a primary team siloed to a headquarters effectively speak to the multi-faceted cultures and countries it wants to reach?

At the end of the day, your brand police can be your greatest assets—having critical team members in place who know the brand inside and out, what it stands for, what its short and long-term objectives might be, and the tiny details that ultimately deliver the brand’s holistic essence.

Strategically, BIC handled the situation as a nimble brand should—acting quickly, and facing the situation head-on. In this day in age, there’s no pulling the wool over consumers’ eyes. So, kudos to the brand for handling it with humility. And to the BIC brand cop who was out getting donuts, we feel your pain.

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