Two recent campaigns have shown the perils—and promise—of marketing to women. BiC’s new “Pens For Her” with their “elegant design” and thinner barrel (theoretically designed to better fit a woman’s hand) was targeted by online reviewers, who mocked the company for attempting to feminize an inexpensive, non-gendered product:

BIC Pens for Her

Someone has answered my gentle prayers and FINALLY designed a pen that I can use all month long! I use it when I’m swimming, riding a horse, walking on the beach and doing yoga. It’s comfortable, leak-proof, non-slip and it makes me feel so feminine and pretty! Since I’ve begun using these pens, men have found me more attractive and approchable (sic). It has given me soft skin and manageable hair and it has really given me the self-esteem I needed to start a book club and flirt with the bag-boy at my local market.

I am so amazed that BIC is making this. The last thing we need are women writers. Pens were made for men… If a woman has something to say, tell a man, if its important enough to remember, we will write it down for you. That’s the way its always been, and that’s the way it should stay.

Meanwhile, a stereotypically masculine brand has expanded its efforts to appeal to female customers with specially designed products that are designed to fit women better. That brand? The NFL, which estimates that women make up 40 to 45% of their fan base,  yet only account for 15% of merchandising sales. The NFL’s first efforts to increase women’s sales used the “pink it and shrink it” technique, which met with limited success. As a result, they adjusted their strategy to start offering more luxury goods and everyday wear, as well as partnering with well-respected women’s brands.

The organization’s latest ad campaign, “It’s My Team,” continues to balance the sport with style, featuring famous football fans who happen to be female, like Condoleezza Rice and Serena Williams. Furthermore, the ads will be placed in a variety of publications, from Women’s Health and Sports Illustrated to InStyle, Seventeen, and even Vogue—the last place you would expect to find anything about football.

NFL Women's Apparel It's My Team

So what makes the difference between promoting a successful female line and generating consumer backlash?

  1. Determine, from the consumer’s perspective, if there is a reason to differentiate a line based on gender. Women clearly see the value in better-fitting, flattering apparel, but pens—especially inexpensive, disposable ones—are more limited as to how much they can be physically modified. As a result, the supposed benefit comes off as a cynical marketing ploy.
  2. Be feminine, not girly. Women want to feel attractive and youthful, but not immature. Note that the NFL campaign uses a simple gray backdrop and block font rather than pink colors, curly-cue fonts, or other “cute” signals. The women featured all appear playful yet confident, and have been successful in very diverse fields.
  3. Target people, not women. It is interesting to consider whether the BiC pens would have received substantial attention if they had not labeled them “For Her.” There is certainly consumer demand for colorful pens, and if they were simply marketed as such, they would still attract the right customers—the majority of whom (but certainly not all) would happen to be women. On the other hand, thanks to these reviews, more people than ever before are aware of the brand!