I have to preface this weeks post with an admission that I’ve secretly feared Veet (previously called Neet) ever since I was 13. And it’s not because of some misguided teen hair removal exercise. One of my friends had Neet put in her hair during a high school initiation day, and clumps of it fell out in her hands. This image, as an insecure adolescent, is still vivid in my mind. It will also likely have you questioning what side of the tracks my high school was on! This piece of baggage explains perhaps why, even after all these years, I felt some vindication this week towards a product I grew to dislike.
If there was ever any doubt that the consumer is now in control of shaping brand messages in the age of social media, this week delivered living proof. Veet, a women’s hair removal product, announced with great fanfare, that their new “Don’t risk dudeness” campaign would launch during Dancing with the Stars on Monday. After it aired, consumer weighed in, and it would appear that the reaction is not what the company had anticipated. The backlash was so swift online, that by Wednesday morning Veet had yanked the ads and issued an apology on their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/veet.
For those who haven’t seen it, the man wakes, strokes the leg of his sleeping companion draped over him, to a rude hairy awakening. The person in bed beside him appears as an exceptionally hairy bearded man, who states in a women’s voice, “Yeah, I know, I’m a little prickly, I shaved yesterday.” Then the prescriptive voiceover wraps up, “Don’t risk dudeness, use Veet wax strips. Feel womanly around the clock.” The bearded guy then magically transforms to a women in the final shot. If that description begs for a full visual, you can still view the spot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxCHLXQffsg.
There were two other spots in the campaign. One where a girl in a sleeveless dress hails a cab, only to be passed up, as she appears transformed into the same bearded hairy-pitted man. The hairy dude also appears getting a pedicure, meant to shame all women who thought they could hide their legs while getting those toes painted. The subtext is clear, our norm as a society is men have body hair and women don’t. While shaving, make-up, hair care and heels may well be something many women enjoy, advertising leads us to believe that they’re really not optional.
There in lies the rub.
There’s a certain shaming implied that appears prescriptive. Some viewers even saw homophobic overtones and found that questionable. Beyond the “agree or disagree” with the hair removal argument, I think there was something even bigger wrong with these spots: they forgot who the target market was. Yes they’re edgy, and on some level funny, but in a young male humour kind of way. I usually love funny ads. But the humour in these spots was at the expense of the woman who is supposed to be the target market. One friend summed it up best, “These spots were likely created by a couple guys in their 20s at 3am and approved by a male creative director.” They remind me of how the Old Spice “Creepy moms” ads forgot who actually buys the product for teens boys living at home, when they took aim at Mom. Veet got a few laughs for exposing a known truth, women often host stubble, but in doing so they alienated their buyers by teasing their insecurities and making them look foolish.
There have been other brands targeting women who made this type of misstep. Likely the most memorable was Motrin with an ad intended for young mothers who carry their babies in slings close to the body. Their attempt to bond with their customers backfired when a number of online Mom’s were offended by the suggestion carrying their babies this way was “fashionable” and they were outraged at the suggestion that they looked “tired and crazy.” Johnson & Johnson, Motrin’s parent company missed the cues of outrage online and didn’t learn of the backlash until it hit mainstream broadcast and print media. Other than the obvious need to monitor social media if you’re going to play there, they learned very quickly to not mess with Mommy bloggers on maternity leave.
At least Veet was closely monitoring consumer opinion, and responded quickly. But it sure does beg the question how the creative could have gotten that far, and been so wrong. Here’s the apology listed on their Facebook page Wednesday:
“Hi…this is the Veet marketing team in the US. We just wanted to let everyone know, we get it – we’re women too. This idea came from women who told us that at the first hint of stubble, they felt like “dudes.” It was really simple and funny, we thought. To be honest, the 3 of us could really relate to these real-life moments and they made us laugh. Not everyone appreciated our sense of humor. We know that women define femininity in different ways. Veet helps those who choose to stay smooth. Our intention was never, ever, to offend anyone, so we decided to rethink our campaign and remove those clips. Thank you for letting us know how you feel.”
It also appears that Reckitt Benckiser, the British company that owns Veet, was trying to distance themselves from this US based blunder, in order to protect their brand reputation globally. The company issued this statement at the end of the week:
“This is a US advertisement, and has only been aired in North America. While the current advertising campaign for VEET running in the USA has been well received by most consumers who appreciate its wacky, tongue in cheek humour, it has also provoked a great deal of comment. We take our responsibilities very seriously and the ad was carefully reviewed before it aired. However we are very concerned by any misinterpretation of its tone or meaning, and in the light of the feedback received we have decided to withdraw it. We would also like to apologize for any offense it may have caused. That was certainly not our intention.”
So what can we learn from this, even if we are not a global brand with a huge marketing budget?
- It’s absolutely critical to know your target market well so you don’t offend them.
- For many brands there is a difference between influencer and actual purchaser. Again, know which one you’re talking to and don’t offend the purchaser.
- Test your creative. Then test your creative.
- Consumers will control the final message in the age of social media. Get used to being judged.
- The way you respond to being judged is now part of the campaign.
- And as any teenager who has ever posted something online that they regret has learned, you can NEVER really withdraw a campaign. The “Don’t risk dudeness” Veet ads will live on popping up like a Whack-a-mole at the fair, because nothing makes folks want to see something more, than being told they can’t view it.
And perhaps this final piece of advice might sum it up best: Be brave, be creative, but be careful!