Gmail Ad Claims Women Use Email For Shoes, Dates, Not Much Else
Posted 8/16/2013 12:47:00 PM

So this is how women's minds work.

A recent ad for Gmail's redesigned multiple-tab inbox imagines how much easier the new system will make female users' digital lives, but the key word here is "imagines." Parts of this hypothetical user's experience will resonate with some female consumers -- if you knit or appreciate men who swing dance, maybe you will see some aspect of yourself in this ad. The composite, however, feels just like that -- a composite. Who is this woman who listens to "Please Mr. Postman" by the Marvelettes and cancels on her knitting club last minute, whose new shoes arrive precisely the day she plans to wear them and whose life evidently revolves around manicures and date nights? Do you know her? I don't.

As Andrea Peterson wrote on The Washington Post's The Switch blog, the ad draws a caricature of the archetypal female user that will strike many women as lazy, unoriginal and inaccurate, if not offensive.

See, as sexist ads go, this isn't terrible. Think Axe, Go Daddy, Belvedere Vodka. It gets so, so, so much worse.

I'm not even sure I agree with Peterson that the ad's opening line, "Inboxes can be overwhelming" contributes to "the (unfounded) narrative that women are digitally illiterate." Lots of people feel overwhelmed by their inboxes, and some of those people are female. I also don't think having the woman in the video use the inbox to organize her shoe purchases says that women "need to be lured into using technology by the prospect of making their shoe buying experience easier."

What the ad mainly communicates is an absence of curiosity on Google's part about how a diversity of female consumers use email and what their various needs may be. That seems like a big oversight, considering that Google has taken the trouble to create an ad directly targeting women. Why not feature an actual woman and build a narrative about how the new inbox helps her get through her day, whether she's building a social following for her small business, ordering groceries, making student loan and car payments, corresponding with her family or applying for jobs?

That story, whoever the subject, would inevitably resonate better with female consumers because it would show how Google's new product benefits someone they recognize: a woman with interests beyond her looks and love life and responsibilities beyond her social obligations. And doing the research to figure that out would probably help Google develop products that serve those women better.

Posted By: Producer Thomas  
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