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Courting controversy

Controversy is a rare thing in B2B. Brands tend to play it safe, but when they do create a stir it can go either way.

Last month, one brand got it terribly wrong. I was shocked to see the use of blatant sexism in a product press release targeting the predominantly female HR sector.

The press release from health and protection advisers, Punter Southall Health & Protection Consulting (PSHPC), personified its new data assistant software – designed to check changes to employee details that may affect a company’s protection insurance – as a female named Gladis who is a ‘sexy, straight-talking assistant’. I mean did it really need the ‘sexy’ part? Straight-talking would have been perfectly fine.

The agency behind the campaign, Inky Blue, should hang its head in shame after saying its aim was to create a ‘warm, feminine and ever so slightly sexy character HR professionals would relate to, but not feel threatened by.’ The idea that women feel threatened by each other is extremely outdated if you ask me, and this stereotype needs to be busted not reinforced.

It might have gone down better if it had been more satirical. One company to fair slightly better is conference call provider Powwownow, whose decision to create ‘slime ball banker’ Cecil Goldwell, as part of its ‘More sense than money’ campaign mostly hit the right note with its business audience. However, it didn’t completely escape backlash after some adverts featuring its fictional character alongside slogans such as, ‘I like my coats mink, truffles white and secretaries Swedish’ were defaced after commuters took offence to the sexist slogans.

The lesson? Push the boundaries, but know your audience. Sexism isn’t going to go down well in any industry, let alone a female dominated one.