Femfresh, Keep Your Hands Off My Fanny

ASA FEMFRESH

I’m late to it, but I’m in the grips of Mad Men on Netflix, the crazy world of ad men steeped in whiskey, sex and sexism.

Women are consistently referred to as ‘sweetheart and honey’, viewed mostly as dumb – the only value they hold is in making babies and having sex – so basically, all or any power comes from the prettiness of their face or what they hold between their legs. Clients and ad men in the main, think that all that is needed to sell a product are sexy women.

Mad Men is set in the 1960s, so although I frequently scream into a pillow when something horribly sexist happens, I understand that this is a time gone by, and make a sign of the cross that things like this don’t happen anymore.

But fast forward 2017, and while advertisers have learned that pissing women off – or capitalising on low self-esteem – is not a way to push products, now and again someone just didn’t get the memo.

Enter Femfresh – the feminine hygiene product brand that at best, has a tenuous relationship with women because it taps into the decades-old subtext that women’s genitals require extra attention and cleaning, while men’s genitals are a mighty Gandalf’s wand that smell like power and success.

Femfresh has gotten into trouble with the ASA, because of a recent ad that aired in March and April, which focussed on women dancing in leotards – with close shots on their crotch, in case we mistakenly thought we were supposed to use their Shower and Shave cream on our feet.

The ASA rightly, has pulled the ad because it presented women in an ‘overly-sexualised’ way that objectified women. Hallelujah.

Maybe this could’ve been written off as a mistaken concept – possibly the advertiser thought it was tongue in cheek. But no such luck – the advertiser didn’t just decide to put out a bafflingly ill-thought ad – it doesn’t see what the problem is.

Yep, that’s right.

Church & Dwight UK – the brand which owns Femfresh – doesn’t think it’s offensive, and claims the close-ups were meant to show how the product could give you a smooth bikini line.

Maybe it’s too much to expect from a brand whose strap-line is ‘Expert Care For Down There’. Down there? Mate, even my 3-year-old niece knows it’s called a vagina.

But for me here, there are some basic problems which I’m happy to explain to Femfresh.

First, call a woman’s genitals by its name – not ‘down there’ as it taps into the idea that we can’t use the proper name for a vagina because it’s unseemly.

Second, understand that if women are buying a product – especially a product for their bodies – they don’t need to see close-up shots of another woman’s vagina. Credit us with enough intelligence that we can make the connection between the product and its use, and be a bit more creative – like this amazing Maya Rudolph ad for Seventh Generation.

Third, understand how women want products to be marketed to them. I’ve said this at enough advertising events until I’m blue in the face but women are savvy and they understand when something isn’t advertised to them in an authentic manner.

Church & Dwight UK used the defense that these women were pulling poses seen in pilates, dance and gym classes so it was fine – but 1) I don’t know about you but I’ve never seen a woman doing Zumba in a gold leotard 2) Not everyone who uses the gym looks like a model and 3) they didn’t seem to understand that it was shot in a format which has a reference point in sexism. Namely the Eric Prydz Call On Me music video, which had all my male uni friends salivating, and made the rest of my female friends and I feel like utter rubbish.

Authenticity is such a huge part of what makes us connect with an advertiser’s product – being made to feel like we are being spoken to. We want to feel like the advertiser is on our side, that they are part of our squad.

But women prancing around in a leotards so I can see how smooth their bikini line is? And then for the advertiser to justify it even though clearly so many people felt strongly about it?

Hell, I don’t even think that would’ve made it past the cutting room in Mad Men.

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