Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Tesco don't get it on sexist marketing.

Remember I wrote the other day about how I'd complained to Tesco about the appalling gender stereotyping in their latest advertising campaign? It featured baby dolls as being "for girls" and transformers being "for boys". Well, I've had a reply which, if anything, has made me feel more angry than I did before. It was offensive and insulting to compare the marketing of toys to the marketing of clothes - and there's certainly a lot to be said about clothes marketing and the premature sexualisation of girls, but we'll leave that for the moment.

I'm sure that my avoiding buying toys in the place will not bother them one bit, but I am going to try to avoid them as much as possible now. After all, in the campaign to change our culture so that girls particularly don't have their ambitions limited by marketing which belongs half a century ago, every little helps.

Please feel free to spread the word far and wide to anyone who might be interested and suggest that they also complain to Tesco.

Below is their response in full, with my comments.

Dear Ms Linsay - it would have been nice if they could have spelled my name correctly

Thank you for your email and please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in my reply. Two days - not so bad. I can live with that. I would rather they had taken longer and taken my concerns more seriously. Given that this is word for word the response sent to Caroline, I'm not alone in being concerned about this campaign.

Part of the reason for this advert was to give grandparents and other people present ideas for the children they may buy presents for. It was merely meant as a guide for our customers and I'm sorry that the advert was not more explicit in that. Yes, but it could just have shown toys - for the children - without reference to gender. I'm sure grandparents know their grandchildren well enough to know what they like.

The format of this advert is in line with our current advertising campaign where we show a number of different products one by one. As these products appear on the screen, we provide a suggestion of who may like this item, or what the item can be used for. For example, towards the end of the Summer, when we started advertising School Uniforms, our adverts followed a very similar format and showed the Uniform "for Girls" and "for Boys". Please don't insult my intelligence. Boys and girls clearly wear different clothes. This is different. This is one of the biggest companies in the country suggesting that girls should play with dolls and boys should play with transformers. It suggests that these are appropriate presents, reinforcing ideas about gender that have no place in the 21st century. In my experience, both genders like playing with a wide range of toys. It's the sort of narrow minded ideas in your advertisement that lead to boys in particular getting a really hard time if they want to play with toys associated with girls.

While girls may not have such a hard time for playing with toys associated with boys, the ideas such stereotyping plants in their head about what is expected of them in life are, I think, quite dangerous. It's fine to play with dolls and dress up - but not to be told that that's what you should like, and should aspire to. It's not right in this day and age for either girls or boys to grow up with the idea that it's a woman's role alone to look after children, for example.

Our new advert is a continuation of this and was not meant to cause any offence to our customers. For example, when you look at our Tesco Direct catalogue, or any of our competitor catalogues, you'll see pictures of girls playing with traditionally "Girl Toys", and boys playing with traditionally "Boy Toys". Not in all of them. Some are a bit more with the times than Tesco. I think that as a leading company in this country you should play your part in consigning this type of stereotyping to history. Recently I wrote to another company about an outrageous piece of marketing on their website on which it promoted nurses' uniforms for girls and doctors' costumes for boys. The message that subliminally gives to young children is that it's appropriate for women to be in that subordinate roles and men to seek the more powerful careers. To limit girls' ambitions and expectations in that way is nothing short of wicked. Anyway, within days, I am pleased to say that they had changed their website and apologised.
However, we are fully aware that children choose their own toys and do not fit into boxes like this, and please let me assure you that we're not trying to say these items are "only" for one gender or another. We know that our customers are all individual, and make individual choices about the items they purchase, or in this case, the toys they play with. I think it's possible to give suggestions of presents for children without using gender - "for the creative child", "for the child who loves action toys" "for the child who loves dolls" "let your child explore the world of transformers/space/fairyland or whatever.

Therefore, I will pass your feedback on so that this can be considered for future advertisements, as I'd never want any of our customers to feel as though we are trying to stereotype children. Well, I don't think that's sufficient. I'd like to hear more about exactly who this is being passed to and I would actually like to talk to them about why I feel this sort of marketing is inappropriate. I think it's wrong to portray to girls that their role in life is to be maternal and passive, while portraying to boys that their role is to be more macho, or getting involved in  more challenging pursuits, or active. I think that for one of the largest companies in the UK to reinforce outdated ideas is wrong.

Your reply does not give me confidence that the company will take this issue seriously. I know several people who are actually choosing to shop at other shops as a result of your failure to take concerns about this advertising campaign seriously. I'm glad that there's a new alternative supermarket being built near me so that I have somewhere else to go.
I really hope that this information helps you and thank you for taking the time and trouble to get in touch with me about this. If I can help you any further in this matter, then please feel free to get back in touch with me.

If you have any further queries please do not hesitate to contact me at

Kind Regards
(name deleted to protect the guilty)
Customer Service Manager
Tesco Customer Service


Neil M said...

Good on ya!

Part of our consumer society is letting traders who fail to meet our expectations know that so that they can react accordingly. If the volume of happiness is sufficient they often will react and supermarkets are generally very sensitve to the moods of their consumers.

I would however say two things. When are boycotting them we need to let them know that because only then will correctly identify what it is about their behaviour that we find unacceptable. Secondly, you need to boycott the company - not one outlet, one department or one product range but the whole company because otherwise you will not have a noticable effect on the bottom line.

Neil M said...

I've seen this advert now and everything Caron says about it is true. It is like a timewarp to the 1970s*. It would be hilarious if it wasn't so demeaning.

* Readers will understand that due to my youthfulness everything I know about the 1970s I read in books.

Helen Catterall said...

Anyone with children will know that in reality there is a great deal of gender cross-over as far as toys are concerned. However, I'm not sure that we can castigate retailers for trying to target dolls to girls, as marketing is more likely to succeed if it follows popular consumer trends rather than different, albeit perfectly normal, behaviour.


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