by Magnus Shaw
Last year I wrote a column on a brilliant campaign for Mooncup - an alternative female sanitary device. The brand's wit and frankness were refreshing and the correspondence I received suggested the gadget has many fans. And now a story emerges along similar lines, but with a more problematic outcome.
As before, I must point out I am male and therefore not a real expert on female hygiene products. However, as a time-served copywriter, I know a bit about words and there's no doubt words are at the heart of this sorry tale.
You may be familiar with something called FemFresh. If not, this is their own description: "A Ph balanced formula for intimate skin." Speaking plainly, it's a soap designed for women's genitals. Unfortunately, it's a distinct lack of plain speaking that has brought so much difficulty to the brand.
Like so many advertisers, FemFresh recently took to Facebook to promote their range, building themselves a bespoke page with some bright, cheery and inoffensive graphics. So far, so good. But then they added the text. This is what it said:
"Your nooni, kitty, la-la, va-jay-jay, froo froo. Whatever you call it, make sure you love it!"
Many of the women reading the page may well love their vaginas but they certainly didn't love this approach to marketing. A sensible bunch, they obviously take their health and hygiene seriously and don't enjoy this sort of childish prissiness. Unluckily for FemFresh, Facebook is all about interaction and comment and a determined group soon set about admonishing the brand for the use of infantile language in describing the female anatomy. Some even suggested a noun beginning with "c" might be more appropriate (a word with a 300 year history), but most insisted "vagina" would have been both accurate and acceptable - and presumably, considerably less patronising.
Although they have now been taken down, you can read a few of those comments here:
To me, these messages are all well thought out, assertive and powerful. What's more, FemFresh should have been delighted with the interest and debate their campaign had attracted. Here are women, talking about their bodies, exactly what this brand should be about. But they weren't delighted. Not one bit.
Once Church & Dwight, the manufacturer of FemFresh, realised they were taking some flak, they reacted - rapidly making a series of clunking mistakes which merely amplified their problems. First, they issued a stern telling off to the women using the more forthright words. They didn't make it clear whether they included "vagina" in this clampdown. Then they assured everyone they were considering the posted opinions before promptly deleting them and closing the page. Naturally the criticisms rapidly multiplied and continued elsewhere.
C&D then entered scapegoat mode, pointlessly firing their social media agency and weakly blaming hoax sites for the removal of their page. Of course, by then, any relationship they'd established with the Facebook users had been squandered and replaced with a bubbling mess of bad feeling.
So what should they have done?
Well, for starters, C&D might have considered the nature of social media marketing before they got going. Very different from a regular advertisement or even a micro-site, a Facebook presence opens the door to all-comers. It's very much a full and frank conversation with one's customers (and anyone who happens to be passing) and to expect every interaction to be brimful of hearty praise is, at best, naive. At worst, it's counter productive.
Having accepted the FemFresh campaign wasn't playing well with the Facebook audience, the marketeers had a choice: they could either stand by their work and use the social network to explain their rationale; or they could recognise the complaints were valid and adjust the text accordingly. Opting to censor and erase the debate they had initiated was the worst of all worlds - appearing arrogant and confused to the very people they were seeking to attract.
Such poor judgement is made worse when the communication is of a particularly sensitive nature. A brand like FemFresh must convince potential consumers they understand their anxieties, priorities and self-image. To appear intolerant of dissent and concern is to undermine that crucial trust. As Tarryn Blackwood, Senior Account manager at We Are Social, observes in The Drum:
"It's clear that Femfresh hasn't understood or embraced what social is all about. They managed to undo a whole year's work of community building and management just because people didn't have nice things to say about them. Not only did they swiftly dump their social agency in a transparent attempt to pass the buck, they also proceeded to run crying to Facebook for help in making the bullies go away."
There's a valuable lesson for all advertisers in the FemFresh debacle. To imagine social networks are convenient, high traffic, free noticeboards on which to publish marketing messages to a willing audience, is to make a considerable mistake. Any brand seeking a presence on Facebook, Twitter or any other social network, must have a credible strategy for managing this two-way, public communication - no matter how challenging it becomes.
Otherwise, they may end up looking complete froo-froos.
Magnus Shaw is a copywriter, blogger and consultant.