Blogs & Comment

'Sexist' BIC pens appear to be selling well, ironically

The pens may be silly, sexist even. But that doesn't mean they won't sell.

forher

Pen-manufacturer BIC is the Internet’s latest least cool kid in school thanks to a line of “for Her” pens that are, quite frankly, as ridiculous as they sound—and now the subject of much e-ridicule.

Some context: They’re pens targeted at women. Well, a certain type of woman. They’re pink, purple, teal—all the colours in the stereotyped female rainbow—and extra sleek. Each “for Her” BIC pen has a “Thin barrel to fit a women’s hand,” according to the product’s Amazon page.

And that’s where things went seemingly south for the pen. You’ll find over 300 reviews on one of the pen’s Amazon pages and even more on another, but among them you’d be hard-pressed to find anything written in earnest.

The sarcastic reviews dominating the pen’s Amazon pages went viral thanks to a popular Gawker story, which in turn was picked up by a range of mainstream media outlets like CBC.ca. Already, the BIC story has popped up on my Facebook newsfeed a few times.

And understandably. It’s funny. Here was one the most popular reviews (which roughly 2,000 users found helpful):

No good for man hands
I bought this pen (in error, evidently) to write my reports of each day’s tree felling activities in my job as a lumberjack. It is no good. It slips from between my calloused, gnarly fingers like a gossamer thread gently descending to earth between two giant redwood trunks.  

Hilarious, yes. Well, I certainly laughed. The pens are a great gag. That probably explains why they’re now selling pretty well on both the U.S. and U.K. Amazon sites. As I write this, various “for Her” sets are the 4th, 6th and 7th best-selling stick ballpoint pens on the American site.

BIC’s earned media, while negative and likely unintended, appears to have resulted in sales. After all, irony sells—ask any hipster. (Interestingly, it’s not even the first time this month BIC has drawn criticism for its marketing.)

That’s not to say, however, that these pens need ironic buyers. There’s a market for everything, even sexist pens.

Many years ago, sometime between my oh-so-practical bachelor’s in philosophy and grad school, I learned this the hard way in a job interview. I mentioned that one of the company’s campaigns, which targeted women, came across as a bit sexist. It had lots of pink and there were frills (seriously), despite being aimed at small business owners. I suggested the campaign should instead aim to empower women, not stereotype them.

The interviewer replied by asking if I’d ever buy pink pants. I said no. He asked if there were other people who would. Obviously, yes. And how many people are making pink pants? Not too many, we both figured. So the competition is low, but there’s still a market for it.

By now, the parallel should be obvious: Just as there was a market for his lace-adorned campaign (he claimed it did well), there’s one too for “feminized” pens. It may be small, but so is the competition.

Of course, none of that excuses BIC from criticisms that these pens are insulting to women.  

(I didn’t get that job, by the way.)