New BIC Pen ‘For Her’ Gets Scathing Reviews

Pen manufacturer Bic has recently introduced a new range of pens especially for women. The ‘Bic Cristal for Her’ is a ball point pen available in pastel colours, and is slimmer than usual in order to fit a woman’s hand.

One retailer describes the pens as follows:

Cristal For Her ballpoint pens are reserved for women and feature a diamond-engraved barrel for an elegant, unique feminine style. The tinted, hexagonal barrel is thinner for better handling for women and still keeps the ink supply visible.

The Bic website notes that the pens are available in Europe, but Amazon makes the pens available in the United States.

Far from appealing to the women they were targetting, the company has received scathing product reviews and sarcastic comments onAmazon.

E. Bradley “LuckyLady1978″ from New York wrote: “The delicate shape and pretty pastel colours make it perfect for writing recipe cards and checks to my psychologist (I’m seeing him for a case of the hysterics), and tracking my monthly cycle. Obviously, I don’t use it for vulgar endeavors like math or filling out a voter application, but BIC Cristal for Her is a lovely little writing utensil all the same. Ask your husband for some extra pocket money so you can buy one today!”

Another reviewer by name name of bicGirl states: “I don’t understand all the 5 star reviews- this is the WORST eyeliner I have ever used! I can’t get it off for the life of me.”

Men have also been commenting on the pastel-hued pens.

Reviewer Dan Kaufman wrote, “Men, don’t stand for this. Aren’t there enough products specific to women already? First it was tampons, now these pens? What other products will I have to suffer the indignity of being unable to purchase just because I’m a male person?”

The internet is abuzz with snarky blog posts, views and criticism for the product. Feminist website Jezebel has also featured this topic.

Bic hasn’t apologized for the pens and the company has no intention of pulling them from the market or changing their branding.

Bic’s spokeswoman Linda Kwong said that the company always appreciates to hear customer feed back.

Kwong responded to a request for comment with the following statement: “We appreciate hearing honest feedback from all of our consumers, whether it is regarding a promotion, advertising campaign, or product. As a global consumer products company, BIC wants to hear these important comments.”

Pens are pretty gender nuetral, so it doesn’t make much sense to market them to women only. The ‘ladies only’ distinction ensures that for every woman drawn to the product, there’ll be a man who is driven away by the ‘for her’ label. Business-wise, it’s a silly move.

Yes, of course Bic’s branding is unneccessarily sexist and plays heavily into gender biased stereotypes, but wait… why is this any cause for surprise? From food to toiletries to razors to cleaning supplies, certain product lines have always been targetted to women. You can see it in packaging, marketing and advertising and this goes well beyond the ‘make it pink’ phenomenon. I don’t ever remember seeing a washing detergent or cooking oil ‘for him’.

That doesn’t make it okay, but I just don’t understand the shock and rage at these pens specifically. Gender stereotyping is a larger issue that needs to be addressed but attacking one product isn’t going to do it. On the other hand, the Amazon reviews section makes from some fantastic crowdsourced comic relief from the seriousness of the issue at hand.

Kenneth Cole Tweets About Syria, Faces Backlash For Being ‘Insensitive’

US fashion designer Kenneth Cole has posted a controversial tweet referencing Syria on his personal Twitter account, drawing in widespread criticism for being insensitive.

The tweet, posted Thursday afternoon, makes light of the Syrian conflict in order to promote his line of footwear:

Cole is no stranger to corporate tweeting faux pas. In February 2011, he tweeted about Egypt, using the Cairo protests to promote his website: “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online at -KC.”

Then in April this year, after the Senate failed to pass legislation to expand background checks on gun buyers, Cole tweeted a link to an ad stating “Regardless of the right to bear arms, we in no way condone the right to bare feet.”

Though the Cairo tweet was later deleted after Cole issued an apology, the tweet referencing Syria is still online.

In a statement issued through a spokesperson, Cole responded to the criticism of his tweet as follows:

“For 30 years I have used my platform in provocative ways to encourage a healthy dialogue about important issues, including HIV/AIDS, war, and homelessness. I’m well aware of the risks that come with this approach, and if this encourages further awareness and discussion about critical issues then all the better.”

Lego Under Fire For Sexist Stickers

A controversial sticker in a Lego licensed sticker set has caused the brand to come under fire recently.

Journalist Josh Stearns posted an image of the sticker on his Tumblr, saying he was ‘stunned’. The sticker in question features a Lego construction worker with the caption “Hey babe!”

Adweek describes the Lego figure as leering and waving.

Stearns wrote, “My son is just getting into Legos, so I thought he’d love these stickers. Then I took a closer look and saw that one of the construction workers (the only one wearing ‘cool’ sunglasses) was labeled “Hey Babe!””

He went on to say, “The Hollaback website notes that street harassment is the most prevalent form of sexual violence for both men and women in the United States. Internationally, they point out, “studies show that between 70-99% of women experience street harassment at some point during their lives.””

The initial response from Lego came from Charlotte Simonsen, Senior Director at LEGO’s corporate communications office in Denmark, who explained that the stickers were a licensed product produced by Creative Imagination, which went out of business in December of 2012. She said Stearns’ feedback had been forwarded to the Lego licensing team and wrote, “To communicate the LEGO experience to children we typically use humor and we are sorry that you were unhappy with the way a minifigure was portrayed here.”

Stearns wrote back to Simonsen asking a series of follow-up questions about LEGO’s licensing guidelines and how a product like this could make it through their review process.

Later, Lego got back to Stearns with a note from Andrea Ryder, the head of the LEGO Group’s Outbound Licensing Department. Ryder wrote, “I am truly sorry that you had a negative experience with one of our products […] the product is no longer available and we would not approve such a product again.”

Abu Dhabi Group Clarifies Statement About World’s Tallest Building

Last week, every newspaper in the country announced some version of this news:

Former chairman and present consultant of Bahria Town, Malik Riaz Hussain has signed an agreement with His Highness Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak al Nahyan, Chairman Abu Dhabi Group, Union National Bank and United Bank Limited under which $45 billion will be invested in Pakistan.


The alleged memorandum of understanding was signed in order to develop mega real estate projects in Pakistan including construction of world’s tallest building on KPT Island (popularly known as Kutta Island) just off the coast of Karachi. The project included a sports city, educational and medical city, international city, media city, and the construction of miniatures of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Bahria Town had also announced that about 2.5 million Pakistanis would be getting jobs as a result of these projects. It would be the biggest foreign investment ever made in Pakistan.

The press quoted statements made by Malik Riaz, and his son, Ali Riaz, confirmed the signing of this agreement.

This morning, all these claims were proven false when the Abu Dhabi Group ran this clarification in all major newspapers of the country:

Bottom line: Major PR fail for Bahria Town, who took it upon themselves to promote a misleading story.  This is bound to hurt the group’s reputation and they need to invest in some serious image building to prevent matters from getting worse.

End result? The agreement, which was non-binding to begin with, has been cancelled altogether.

Web Designer Hijacks Fitness SF Website After Not Getting Paid

The website for San Francisco’s popular gym, Fitness SF, was highjacked last Friday by a web designer seeking revenge.

Website designer Frank Jonen, who was hired by the company last year, hijacked the Fitness SF website and replaced usual content with a dramatic public rant after the company allegedly failed to pay him properly for his work.

Below is the full text of Jonen’s message:

Frank Jonen Fitness SF

Jonen claims Fitness SF failed to pay him for six months worth of design services. His efforts allegedly included the creation of logo renderings that accumulated more than 1,300 views per piece.

Fitness SF responded to the accusations on their Tumblr, claiming that Jonen had been paid in advance, but never completed the work promised. They also accused him of blackmailing the company.

The site no longer displays Jonen’s message but instead redirects users to an temporary alternate web address.

If Fitness SF hasn’t paid its dues then Jonen’s reaction is probably what they deserve. However, there are conflicting reports from both sides so it’s difficult to assess the situation.

In any case, as far as branding and PR is concerned, other companies should learn from this. No brand should put itself in such a position where an outsider has complete control of its website.

Subway’s ‘Footlong’ Falls Short Of A Foot

Here’s the picture that started it all:

Matt Corby Subway 11 inch footlong
Photo: Matt Corby via Facebook

Teenager Matt Corby posted the photo to Subway Australia’s Facebook page earlier this month, with the caption: “subway pls respond.” The outraged customer wanted to know why his sandwich was not 12 inches long, as advertised.

The photo went viral and gathered 117,000 likes, 2,700 shares, and 5,100 comments.

How did Subway Australia respond? See for yourself:

BuzzFeed’s Copyranter calls it an ‘amazingly stupid response’ that’s begging for legal action. That ‘Subway Footlong’ is merely a descriptive name and not a measurement of length is a ridiculous notion, especially when keeping in mind these images from a Subway US commercial from 2008 that clearly state the size of a footlong:

The controversial post has since been taken down from Subway Australia’s Facebook page.

Branding Scandals: Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods

In the cutthroat world of competitive advertising and brand endorsement, companies fall over themselves to sponsor celebrities to endorse their products and become their brand ambassadors.

The saying ‘What’s in a name?’ does not apply when the names are David Beckham, Lady Gaga, Madonna or Ashwariya Rai. Even deceased stars like Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and of course Elvis Presley still have immense star power posthumously and people still identify themselves with them.

For brands, the need to latch on to a big name becomes greater in proportion to the celebrity’s fame.

However, there is also a negative side to this whole scenario. What happens when an iconic star becomes embroiled in a scandal of any nature whether it is about sex, money, marital infidelity or drugs?

Does this diminish the star value as far as brand products are concerned and do companies scramble to withdraw their sponsorships, or it does not matter at all?

In a nutshell, yes it does matter. However, the impact of scandal is reduced by the larger than life of image of the celebrity in question.

Some recent incidents include the cases of two iconic stars of the sporting world, golfer Tiger Woods who was involved in cases of marital infidelity and cyclist Lance Armstrong, the 7-time winner of the Tour-de-France who has now been stripped of his titles on charges of doping.

Tiger Woods is probably the best known golfer in the history of the sport, having won 14 major professional championships in his career as well as being awarded PGA player of the year 10 times.

Woods has been called the world’s most marketable athlete and he has signed endorsement deals with numerous companies, includingGeneral Motors, Titlist, General Mills, American Express, Accenture, and Nike, Inc. In 2000, he signed a 5-year, $105 million contract extension with Nike described as the largest endorsing deal ever signed by an athlete at that time.

Sales of Nike Golf had skyrocketed and Woods’ endorsement has been credited with playing a significant role in taking the Nike Golf brand from a ‘start-up’ golf company earlier in the past decade, to becoming the leading golf apparel company in the world, and a major player in the equipment and golf ball market. Nike Golf is one of the fastest growing brands in the sport, with an estimated $600 million in sales.

The scandal, however, created a huge setback for nine of Woods’ sponsors who suffered a loss of almost $12 billion in the stock market.

It seems that Nike, despite its losses, had faith in Woods’ ability to regain his iconic stature and stuck by him through thick and thin. This proved to be a prudent decision. Collective memory is short and such scandals soon disappear into the dustbin of history.

Lance Armstrong, the super cyclist who has staved off cancer, is another unfortunate person caught in the lime light. He has been accused of doping charges and stripped of his 7 Tour-de-France titles.

In Armstrong’s case as well Nike is standing by him and has decided not to withdraw its sponsorship, while others are pursuing a wait-and-see policy. The scandal will surely have quite a negative effect on Armstrong’s endorsement career.

They say that in life we have to pay for our mistakes, but in cases like that of Woods and Armstrong brands literally end up paying for their misdeeds.

KitchenAid Apologizes For Rude Tweet About Obama’s Grandmother

Whirpool’s home appliance brand KitchenAid is apologizing profusely for an offensive tweet sent from the company’s Twitter account on Wednesday, during the US presedential debate.

Shortly after President Barack Obama mentioned his late grandmother, the following mocking tweet appeared on the@KitchenAidUSA Twitter feed:

“Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 b bad! ‘She died 3 days b4 he became president’. #nbcpolitics” 

The tweet was in reference to a comment Obama made during the debate as he spoke about the importance of programs such as Medicare and Social Security.

“You know, my grandmother – some of you know – helped to raise me,” Obama said. “My grandfather died a while back. My grandmother died three days before I was elected president. And she was fiercely independent. She worked her way up, only had a high school education, started as a secretary, ended up being the vice president of a local bank. And she ended up living alone by choice.”

“And the reason she could be independent was because of Social Security and Medicare,” he continued.

The original post was quickly deleted, but not before a swift and fierce backlash against the brand. At the time, @KitchenAidUSA had about 24,000 followers, according to PRDaily.

KitchenAid immedietely went into damage control mode and issued this apology on Twitter:

“Deepest apologies for an irresponsible tweet that is in no way a representation of the brand’s opinion. #nbcpolitics” 

Shortly thereafter, KitchenAid’s senior director of marketing Cynthia Soledad began tweeting from the account, saying:

“I would like to personally apologize to President @BarackObama, his family and everyone on Twitter for the offensive tweet sent earlier.” 

“It was carelessly sent in error by a member of our Twitter team who, needless to say, won’t be tweeting for us anymore.” 

“That said, I take full responsibility for my team. Thank you for hearing me out.” 

She then tweeted directly at several media outlets, including Mashable and Adweek, insisting she’d like to talk on the record about what happened.

Soledad said in a statement to CNN: “During the debate tonight, a member of our Twitter team mistakenly posted an offensive tweet from the KitchenAid handle instead of a personal handle. The tasteless joke in no way represents our values at KitchenAid, and that person won’t be tweeting for us anymore.”

Women Removed From IKEA’s Saudi Catalog

Swedish furniture retailer IKEA removed images of women from its catalog in Saudi Arabia, prompting an apology from the IKEA Group as well as criticism from the trade minister.

On Monday, Swedish newspaper Metro published images from the Saudi catalog, pointing out that IKEA had photoshopped women out of identical pictures showcasing its furniture.

“As a producer of the catalog, we regret the current situation,” stated the IKEA Group, which produces the magazine for its franchises. “We should have reacted and realized that excluding women from the Saudi Arabian version of the catalog is in conflict with the Ikea Group values.”

These decisions were most likely made to appease Saudi laws, which prohibit woman from showing too much of their body in public.

The trade minister in Sweden, Ewa Bjorling, did not directly criticize IKEA but instead focused on Saudi policies towards women.

“You can’t airbrush women from reality,” she told Metro. “These images are yet another lamentable example of how much remains to be done concerning gender equality in Saudi Arabia.”

Women in Saudi Arabia have limited rights compared to men. Laws forbidding women from voting or driving cars are two of the more prominent examples, although King Abdullah last year promised reforms that should give women the vote as of 2015.


The recent round of political battle between PML-N and PTI ignited a controversy with questions regarding the mismanagement of funds by the Board of Trustees of Shuakat Khanum Memorial Hospital raised by Mr. Khawaja Asif, PML-N’s whistle-blower in this case.

While everyone was having a go at this issue on twitter, I sent out this tweet: “Dear PMLN, Thank you! Because of you all our donors have suddenly woken up. Sincerely, SKMH Pakistan”

Looking at the response to my tweet, and just giving the whole debacle an afterthought, I realized, PML-N has actually committed a few cardinal PR sins – which ended up in them becoming the bad guys in the public eye. These public relations mistakes are:

1. Think through about the implication of your words

Mr. Khawaja Asif, you were touching a charity that has over the years helped sick people. The REAL people of Pakistan. With your “Shaukat Khanum funds are used for PTI political purposes” story, what you ended up doing is waking up all those people, and suddenly a counter guerrilla campaign started all around us, where just to tell you Mr. Asif (and PML-N) off – people started sending donations out to the cancer hospital … err … not the smartest PR move I have seen in recent times!!

Read more:

Bina Shah’s blog: Hands off the SKMH
Comic Expression by Arsalan

2. Bad homework is worse than no homework

PML-N obviously did some homework to check the endowment management process followed by Shaukat Khanum, but obviously not enough. From the moment the allegations have been made, we have had even students explaining how erroneous their allegations really are. With the advent of social media, experts are a ‘like’ button away – and no it’s not ok to mislead the people with half-truths or lies.

Read more:

Khwaja Asif vs Imran: investor speaks and answers key questions
The fallacy of the PML-N’s allegations

Lets donate more to SKMH, say the people of Pakistan!

3. Are you making news for yourself or the competition?

Smart PR people never deliberately provide others with fresh platforms and story angles. PML-N did just that. Not only did Imran Khan and PTI suddenly have an opportunity for fresh air time on all leading media across Pakistan – Shaukat Khanum too suddenly had a PR edge over all other charities. Plus all other political parties jumped in with their “How could they question the integrity of Shuakat Khunum?”

Why give competitors and others a pulpit of your making?

Read more:

Shaukat Khanum COO on Capital Talk, GEO
CEO Shaukat Khanum’s responses to PML-N
Imran Khan’s press conference
Does Islam allow Zakaat to be invested?

4. Line up brand ambassadors internally and externally

If Khawja Asif actually intended to start a firestorm of such proportions, he should have first lined up third-party ambassadors. Sure, some PTI haters and other PML-N politicians rallied to question the books of Shaukat Khanum too, but that was after the damage had been done.

What has happened as an outcome is PML-N has ended up being the real villain. Not only are the people questioning their ‘good’ deeds as a political party in power, there is a whole bunch of angry Pakistanis who are just plain unhappy with their gall to question Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital.

Epic PR Fail!

Disclaimer: I am neither a supporter of PTI nor a fan of Imran Khan personally. The views expressed above and shared here are simply from a point of view of a Public Relations professional.

First published on Samra Muslim’s blog on 5 August, 2012. Click here to view the original post.

About the author: Professionally, Samra Muslim has over 10 years of experience of working in Pakistan in the fields of marketing, communications, public relations, social media, event management and brand activation. She is constantly on the hunt for more knowledge and describes herself in the following words: optimist, moody, cynic, travel to live, movie junkie, and foodie. Samra is all over the place and has opinions about everything!