Mall stalwart The Sharper Image has a new advertising campaign launching ahead of the holiday season. It involves an attractive woman lounging around with various devices and gadgets. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
The unremitting bluntness of the campaign is more amusing than anything. Not to say that the sexy woman marketing angle has gone out of style, but usually, you see a little more subtlety these days. The Sharper Image’s new ad campaign featuring actress Megan Fox and a bunch of gadgets, as you can see from the above picture, isn’t exactly what one would call subtle.
On the Megan Fox side, good on her. It’s an opportunity to make money by using a bunch of gadgets, laying around, and getting your picture taken. That sounds like a pretty sweet deal to me. Besides, I’m not here to say Ms. Fox should or shouldn’t do anything – the press release says she’s excited to do this because she’s a techie, and I’m willing to take her word for it.
It’s The Sharper Image side that seems a little perplexing, and more than a little misguided. Granted, I’ve been to a Sharper Image, and they do have a lot of products that skew male – electric shavers and the like. They also have headphones and clock radios, and shockingly enough, I think women can actually use those, too. A marketing campaign directed only towards men (judging from the picture above, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that) seems inappropriate.
There was a time when a marketing campaign like this made perfect sense – the 1950s. It made sense, because men ended up buying practically everything for the household. It was horribly, terribly, inexcusably sexist, but the 1950s were horribly, terribly, inexcusably sexist times that called for corresponding advertising campaigns (which were accordingly toned down for ’50s morality).
In case The Sharper Image missed a few New Years’ Eve celebrations along the way, we’re not in the 1950s anymore. If they’re thinking that the average tech purchaser is male, the numbers simply don’t bear that out anymore. Various statistics claim that women spend more on tech per year than men, and vice versa. The point isn’t who spends more – it’s that the line is close enough to where it doesn’t matter anymore. Regardless of what the numbers say, it’s obvious that women are very much interested in buying gadgets, regardless of how that compares to the interest of men.
Going even deeper (and at the risk of absurdity, considering this is just a Sharper Image ad campaign), we can see the mechanisms of entrenched sexism at work. Entrenched sexism is the worst, because it’s the kind of sexism people say doesn’t exist, mainly for the reason that it’s been around so long, its presence has been forgotten – hence, entrenched. But it does exist, because what Sharper Image is doing is what tons of other companies worldwide still do. When those companies think of the average, nameless, faceless consumer, they picture a male. This isn’t something that happens maliciously, but entrenched sexism is rarely malicious. It’s part of the long-established tendency to view the male consumer as default, and the female consumer as “other” – a consumer group that needs its own specialized ad campaigns. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think the world was made up of 75 percent men and 25 percent women, judging by advertising tendencies.
Obviously, that’s not the case. The solution would be something that seems to be difficult, but not impossible, to do – create truly gender neutral advertising campaigns. And believe me, I’m not saying that’s an easy thing to do. But it’s a noble goal and, one would think, a profitable one, should the company in question successfully develop one.
It’s possible The Sharper Image’s Megan Fox ad campaign could be successful, in strictly utilitarian terms – if it solidifies male interest enough to where the lack of effort towards attracting women becomes a cost worth incurring, then I guess that’s a win for The Sharper Image. Still, for a store that carries mostly gender neutral products, you’d think it would be beneficial to take a slightly more egalitarian approach.