7 things I hate about the new Playtex campaign










By now, I assume most of you have heard about the new Playtex print campaign for its Fresh & Sexy wipes, courtesy of Grey, New York. If you haven’t seen the campaign in its entirely, view it here. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Try not to view it while you’re eating. Or breathing.

A friend forwarded the campaign to me with the disclaimer “I am not making this up.”  I think I may have blacked out when I first saw it. But once I came to, I promptly posted it to the 3% Facebook page.

The comments began percolating like microwave popcorn. There was dismay that a female CD was behind such drivel (Elaine McCormick of Grey). Words like “floored,” “disappointed,” “dismay,” and “mess” showed up. And some thoughtful comments cropped up from Marti Barletta, a marketing-to-women expert we revere, revealing that she takes more offense from the recent breast cancer ad starring scantily clad men.

(Also not a good indicator when your campaign is deemed “not as offensive as _____________“).

So here, after weighing and measuring all the comments, is my take on why this campaign is really, truly awful.

Heads should roll.

The copywriter should turn in his MacBook Pro… forever.

And the client should make a public apology to Playtex shareholders. That’s how bad this is.

Seven reasons why, starting with the small offenses and moving to the bigger ones:

1) It’s lazy

I imagine a creative team gathering together and being asked to yell out every term for male and female anatomy. Someone whiteboarded it and — voila — insta-headlines. Just add water. Formulaic, even. The clean ________ gets more _________.

2) It’s see and say

Beaver. Door knob. Woodpecker. Get on it, art buyer! The reader’s mind isn’t enlisted to fill in any blanks, to consider any nuance, to participate at all. This is the stuff of Portfolio 101, where students have to “unlearn” what advertising is — rhymes, cliches, turns of phrase — and learn the much, much harder skill of elevating a consumer truth into something compelling and worthy of a conversation.

3) It’s too close to the creative brief...and the wrong creative brief at that

My first CD used to sometimes admonish us: “Careful — your creative brief is showing.”

These aren’t even headlines — they’re PG-13 rated versions of USPs. “If you are clean, you will have more sex” suddenly becomes “A clean beaver gets more wood.” But I question whether the creative brief said exactly that, or something different. Did women really tell Playtex they wanted MORE sex, or did they instead reveal what I suspect was closer to this: “I want to feel more sexual, if only I could feel more confident.” That’s a very different expressed need than simply wanting “more sex.” (Someone else commented on our FB post, “Um…since when have women ever had trouble getting laid?”)

4) It’s not even technically accurate

The clean beaver does NOT get more wood. The matted, filthy, scrappy, don’t-give-a-shit beaver gets more wood. The clean beaver starves and is voted off the island.

The polished knob does NOT get more turns. If I’m going into a room, I’m going into a room, knob be damned.

5) It preys on women’s insecurities

You stink.

That’s the message of this campaign. And the only way to become worthy is to buy this product.

This is lowest-common denominator thinking. Brought to you by the folks who tell you your thighs are too jiggly, your breath not fresh, your legs too stubbly, your boobs too saggy, your teeth too yellow…

6) It invites men into the self-loathing-a-thon and that ain’t progress

Just because Playtex made an equally offensive campaign for men doesn’t make it okay. It makes it doubly offensive.

7) It ignores Cindy Gallop’s omen that “the future is about the female gaze”

For anyone who had the good fortune to hear Cindy Gallop’s keynote speech at The 3% Conference, a key takeaway was this: the future belongs to those who show women through a female lens. We are shifting away from sole depictions of women as men see them and towards a world of work that celebrates who women really are and how they see themselves. This campaign fails here. Men do the picking and the tapping.

But other than these 7 things… I love it!!!!!

So… what would I have done differently?

I would have crafted a long copy ad that talked directly to women, acknowledged their fears, reassured them of their worth, and gave them permission to be great.

Here’s how it might sound:

You wonder sometimes.
Am I in the mood?
Maybe yes. Maybe no.

Either of which are okay.

But if what’s stopping you
is the itty-bitty-shitty committee
in your mind, tell them to hush.

You are beautiful. Worthy.
And you smell just as nature intended.

And if that lingering doubt doesn’t fade,
quiet it however you can.

And get on with the joyful, happy act of getting it on.

See the difference?

What do all of YOU think?


  1. Karen Moran says:

    Actually…my email to you about this oh so fab-u-luss “advertising” campaign also had the caveat (I hear circus music). Shakes head and laughs…

    The #1 point for me is Playtex is perpetuating the sadly still alive obtuse 1950s notion of woman + clean lady parts = man = happiness. It’s a little too Bill Blass What I like and don’t like so much in a woman. http://ow.ly/hEfxe And to your #5 point it absolutely play off women’s insecurities. If I just buy this eye cream, or these crazy running Skechers toning shoes.

    Is it really too much to ask to be original and not suck while you’re doing it?

    • Kat Gordon says:

      That Bill Blass ad is classic! Thanks for surfacing it here, Karen. Apparently it IS too much to ask to be original and not suck while doing it. *face palm*

      • Karen Moran says:

        And the really sad thing is – I remember that campaign as a child and thinking hey why is that man being mean to women!!?!? Pretty sad that’s the impression Bill Blass left on a little girl – who grew up to adore clothes – and made sure to never buy any of his. Ahhhh the power of the purse…

  2. Chuck Kent says:

    As much as I prefer your alternate copy, the real distress begins with the fact that this product even exists. I don’t think there’s a “good” way to advertise such an odious product (and yes, it is only the product and its marketing that stinks here)

  3. Dean Logan says:

    I originally posted about this campaign last week wondering if it was real. Was very sorry to learn it was.

    It’s the kind of campaign a junior team first comes up with. Then I, as CD, would get a small chuckle then send them back to do the real work. They would then stick it in their books to show how they can be Edgy.

    The fact that an agency like Grey would stand behind this bit of high school locker room humor blows me away. A CD I once had had a similar saying… “your strategy is showing” he would warn.

    For me it’s not the subject, product or even the desire of an agency wanting to do something that will create buzz (which is clearly the case here) – it’s the pure laziness of how they went about it.

    • Kat Gordon says:

      Thanks for your comments, Dean. Funny how many of us thought this campaign was a phony when we first saw it. I actually wondered if The Onion was behind it! Hope you can join us for The 3% Conference in October. We need more “Guys Who Get It.”

  4. Actually, I’m incredibly grateful for this campaign. I mean, the number of times I give a speech on the topic of Marketing to Women, and point out all the offensive advertising, someone ( a guy) will raise their hand and say, “That’s from the past, dude, those days are over.” Never mind that my examples are from the Super Bowl…the most recent Super Bowl. It’s as if someone sat down and said, “How in the world can we create a campaign that could just be WRONG on every level?” ..congrats…you did it! (Thanks for the ammo!)

  5. Jess says:

    I have to be honest and say I equally hate all ad’s for female hygiene products.

    I also find #7 on your list offensive. You generalize how men allegedly see women. How would you know? It seems like you’re just as guilty at stereotyping as Playtex.

  6. Karen Mallia says:

    Well, I have just two words: Good God. What were they thinking? That perhaps the PR value from the flak would be more valuable than the disgust over their poor taste and bad judgement? That the agency and creative team would get themselves noticed at the brand’s expense? It makes the “Hail to the V” Summer’s Eve campaign look good by comparison. Ironically, both products thrive on the same female odor paranoia, and the misogynist perspective that women’s bodies are created solely for men’s entertainment. Really, isn’t that all women are looking for–a good piece of wood? PUH-lease!

    I am not entirely surprised that a woman was involved. A woman was also on the Hail to the V creative team. It only demonstrates that to have a successful creative career you have to act like, write like, work like “one of the boys” — whether you are male or female. That’s the work that the creative directors are buying and what gets produced. Because, of course, most of the creative directors and CCOs and agency management are….men.

    • Kat Gordon says:

      Women CMOs were behind the GoDaddy Body Paint ads and the Teleflora “Ask + You Shall Receive Ads.” And many men are behind campaigns I love. Regardless of gender, what’s amazing is that brands are willing to choose stunts over substance, without realizing how they may alienate their core audience. Remember, Playtex makes bras and baby bottles and other products where young men are not the buying audience. A poor trade-off was made here.

  7. Diana says:

    Thank you for succinctly critiquing an awful ad and the great link through to Cindy. Personal politics aside, it reminded me heartily of the Republican campaign. A little bit wrong and a little bit off – and very much turning off women. And they didn’t really seem to know why. Meanwhile the Dems were streets ahead of understanding their demographic. It’s like the people at Grey are lost in the past. Maybe not the Mad Men era but certainly pre-Facebook. I’d love to see the stats on usage of social media but I’m betting it’s still more dominated by women. A miss-step like his can get very negative for a brand I believe. Again I’d love to see the stats in particular those campaigns which are eliciting #NotBuyingIt. Feels like the edge of a revolution to me.

  8. Julie Low says:

    What??? Its 2013! I know PLENTY of women out there looking for “wood”. What hole have you guys been living in? These ads were intended to be “cheeky.” They are hilarious, bold and who cares if they aren’t perfectly on point strategically. I think that is precisely the point. And some folks (men and women) like sex squeaky clean while others prefer um… a more woodsy environment. So, Playtex is squeaking to the squeaky demographic. Kat, your copy may be right on point strategically, but it is boring and certainly hasn’t given the woman permission to be great (or step outside of the missionary position). It sounds like a mom giving her 12-year-old daughter a nice, quiet talk about her body and where babies come from. Sorry, just being honest here.

  9. Kat Gordon says:

    Julie, thanks for chiming in. I am glad to hear that someone likes this campaign because there has been very little support for it web-wide. Your comment would hold more weight, however, if you claimed you didn’t just “know” women out there looking for “wood,” but if you were one yourself and this ad motivated you to buy the product. Ads that aren’t on point strategically are indefensible. Simple as that. Off-strategy work is always, always a “back to the drawing board” moment. Always. As for the copy I wrote, it was drafted in ten minutes to show a different approach to the topic that doesn’t prey on women’s insecurities. But I appreciate your perspective and am always grateful when readers take the time to read, digest, think and comment. Please keep showing up and participating in the conversation.

  10. Joe says:

    Maybe i’m too old or too old fashioned, but I miss the decency. Maybe I miss the empowerment arguement somehow, but I don’t think the whole culture has done much besides degrade both sexes in the last twetny to thirty years. People have given up the work of individuals understanding and appreciateing each through romance for the lazy get laid quickie disposable slefish sex menatality. Marketers are all to happy to tell them its the way to go and you can always just be decent when you feel like it anyway. Unfortunately you almost have to sacrifice most of the baby with the bath water as you change the way we look at each other. I haven’t met anyone who can truly have both. The evidence of this lost romantic art of real connection is the rates at which relationships stay together, the further degredation of women and men (and the marketters capitalizing on it in even further reaches of our culture) is ads like this and many more like them. Sex sells evenything and to younger and younger crowds. Young men(boys) and women(girls) don’t even have a chance to know themselves before they are bombarded with pulls on their sexuality to but stuff. And nobody is good enough. When you see a 5’6″ , 46 year old not to thin except in the hair man like me selling jeans on TV, maybe things are getting better. Maybe I’m too romantic, maybe I’m scared by almost losing the love of my life to eating disorders before we even started dating, but I know its our connection that pulled us through the hardest parts of our lives. Why don’t they sell that. This judgement ad assumes we all just want sex and we want it clean or we want to wipe away what gets dirty is classless and misleading. But who cares as long as we sell stuff. The kids that wake up lonely or empty at forty, fifty, wether they are married with kids or not will still be trained to by more stuff either way. In fact the insatiable desire to buy more stuff is even more commanding after the quickie sex drive slows down. No thanks, I’ll keep my less than perfect wife even after 26 years and keep working to understand support and love her so she still desires her less than perfect husband friend and lover. A real sales person only sells whats truly helps their customer otherwise its all snake oil and frankly indecent.

  11. Kat Gordon says:

    Joe, your distaste for the lowest common denominator sales pitch is shared by many. The Playtex Facebook page has hundreds of comments from men and women expressing their dislike for this campaign. Not a peep from the company in response. This is one for the record books.

  12. Kat says:

    Get a sense of humor people! Brilliant campaign slogans to catch you attention. Playtex is getting lots of free advertising by everyone discussing the campaign. My guess is they knew it would be controversial and are banking on those with a sense of humor to share with friends who also know how to laugh and the uptight folks would keep the discussion alive with discussions on how offensive the ads are. As a strong, confident, successful women I find this campaign highly amusing.

  13. Fred Heim says:

    Why not just use http://yourmasque.com/about? I’ve just written two long-winded replies on this subject only to have them disappear when I went off the page for a min.

    Basics: who is this product for? I thought is for women first (stereotypical pink, Playtex, wipes).

    If it is unisex personal care… Really? Look at what KY has done with their up-market his&hers flavored lubes.

    Ugh. I’m tired ranting over a product that will be in the $.99 store in 6 months. Of. Of course, they DO have a twitter feed…

  14. Emmarie says:

    This is a great post! I plan to use the example in the marketing management class I teach.

    The ads instantly reminded me of douche ads from the 1940s and after http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2008/08/21/vintage-zonite-douche-ads/. We may be a little more open about sex, but like pointed out with the Bill Blass ad (first poster) for decades marketers have been relying on feeding women’s insecurities as their main means of persuasion. There is a better, more responsible way.

  15. joe user says:

    I like the campaign and think the product has real value. We camp outdoors a lot and this will come in handy. There are a lot of times when my wife andi would like to be intimate but our day or two of not showering tends to kep those feelings at bay. Your opinion is valued but I just don’t agree.

    • Kat Gordon says:

      Thanks for weighing in, Joe. The blog post is titled “7 Things I Hate About the Playtex Campaign” — not “7 Things I Hate About the Product.” I agree that this product has value. Unfortunately the agency is peddling it in a way that hundreds/thousands of women and men find off-putting. So a good product can be made undesirable by its marketing and a lesser product can be made more desirable by a well crafted ad campaign. I would be curious to know if your wife likes the campaign (again, not the product). Have fun camping and look into Action Wipes — a product we love and whose branding/advertising comes from higher ground.

  16. Caroline says:

    Thank you Playtex, Grey-New York (ad agency), and the advertising departments in all magazines where this campaign ran, for a 40-year set-back for women. This is wrong on so many levels that I don’t know where to begin. It reads like a bunch of high school boys came up with it, the same ones who refer to female genitalia as “tuna”. If women were involved in the creation and marketing of this, I hope they’re canned (pun intended) for contributing to the ongoing disrespect and objectification of women all over the world, not just in the U.S. I love the sisterhood but the women who green-lit this print campaign give the rest of us – people like me who had internships at Ms. Magazine, no less – a bad name. I also hope none of them are rearing male children. Where did the Grey-New York campaign copywriters of this attend school, the Gervais-Dangerfield Academy of Assholes??

  17. jordan says:

    I think a lot of the people who dislike this ad are way off base. Personally I see this as a silly, fun ad and had a good laugh. Is it a little to blatantly sexual for public advertising? probably. But a lot of people bring up the whole advertising substance, and quality, and strategy, and lets be real about what this product is. This is a product used to wipe down your vagina/penis/scrotum of any dirt, sweat, or other unpleasant things so you can have good clean sex. I think a lot of you put the wrong spin on it, you see it as a product and advertisement saying, ladies and gentleman, your private parts are filthy and smelly and no one will have sex with you unless you are freshly bathed. That isn’t the point at all, the point is that all of us as humans get gross down there as the day goes on, and this is a pretty cool product to quickly clean up so you can get to the good stuff.

    This product is on the level of condoms, and have you seen the quality of those commercials? It isn’t any different.

  18. Marianne says:

    I picked up a magazine to glance at while in a salon. Frankly, it would have been quite humorous to have seen a camera on my facial expression as I first glanced at the “beaver” ad. I was stunned and had to reread it. My first thought was “I cannot believe this is in print!” And no, I did not think it was funny. I thought it was in bad taste. Then I thought I must be getting older that this offended me. I asked a male friend his opinion and he thought it was funny. So I googled the ad to see if there was any backlash. I had followed tbe “hail to the V” controversey also.
    I guess I don’t understand the need to advertise these feminine products. If one is feeling. like they might need such a product….then an Ad is not going entice them to go out & buy it. Hopefully we as women would surely be able to do that on our own. And for that matter….why don’t they make such products for men? Plenty of them need something in that dept too.

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