Update: We’ve now heard from Whyd. As promised, see the end of the article for their response. Original article below.
At the top of prestigious startup-catnip website Product Hunt today is a really cool speaker. It’s called Whyd, and it’s made by a San Francisco-based team of French music fans who’ve been running a music social network for the last few years, which they recently open-sourced.
The speaker is an audiophile’s answer to Amazon Echo: an aesthetically appealing, great-sounding piece of kit that lets you talk to it like a person: “play Rihanna” “stop” “play jazz” and so on.
But we’re not here to talk about the speaker.
We’re here to talk about the decision by the Whyd team to advertise their product with this video:
Like innumerable tech companies before them, Whyd has chosen to use a half-naked, stereotypically “hot” woman in their ad for no reason at all. Why is she only half-dressed for most of her time in the video? Why does she take her top off? Why are there lingering close-ups of her glossy mouth? Why does she walk right in front of the camera adjusting her underwear, filling our screens with her butt cheeks?
And furthermore, why does she swallow her toothpaste instead of spitting it? Is that some crappy attempt at an innuendo or did they just not want to shoot that bit? And for that matter, why does she go straight from toothpaste to coffee? That’s going to taste awful. OK, we digress.
For some reason that I will never understand, some of the brightest men in the world fail to realise that by advertising their genuinely good product with sexual objectification, they instantly alienate a huge proportion of their potential buyers. Women, believe it or not, would rather know about the speaker and how it’ll improve their lives than stare at some random lady’s bottom. And so would many men.
Yes, sexualised product videos will appeal to a certain subset of drooling amoebae, but I’d wager many more are absolutely sick of being treated as walking erections who’ll buy anything as long as there are some breasts nearby. As we saw with the depressingly similar Honor smartphone ad – in which a woman in short shorts acts as a maid to a man who calls her “Honey Bear” – a desirable product with impressive features is completely overshadowed by the simplistic, desperate ad.
Like the booth babes used as decoration at certain trade shows, the message is “our product is so weak, we have to distract you with bare flesh.” No one comes out of this looking good – not the product, not the marketing team, not the customer. It’s lazy, lowest-common-denominator garbage, and we can’t believe we’re still seeing new examples of it in 2016.
It also means instead of questions about the product, the comments on YouTube and Product Hunt are peppered with dudes wanting to know who the woman is.
In fairness to Whyd, the woman in the video does acquire some new clothes after disrobing, so that she can flail adorably with bits of paper while her midriff peeps seductively at us, followed by falling ever-so-subtly on a bed. That whole scene is weirdly sexual, with slow shots of her lips, the fabric of her clothes and her curled finger as she reclines on the bed.
In any case, the clothedness doesn’t last. She bafflingly loses her outfit again at the end, where she once more saunters past the camera so we see as much of her body as the speaker. Because you, the viewer, presumably have to be sufficiently titillated before spunking your cash (pun very much intended).
The weird thing is, team Whyd don’t seem to be sexist. They don’t appear to have any women in leadship roles, granted, but both male co-founders have expressed progressive-ish views (for tech – it’s a low bar) about women. Jie Meng-Gérard supports women in sport:
While Gilles Poupardin wrote a whole blog post – since deleted, but we found it – about why women make kickass entrepreneurs.
Team member Adrien Joly is a little less respectful, saying publicly that he likes a hack day idea “especially if that involves hot women” and complaining about being punched in the face by “a crazy girl” at a nightclub, but then he also tweets in support of women in politics.
The question is, if these clearly very talented men aren’t sexist pigs, which they don’t seem to be, why did they choose this hackneyed and embarrassing approach for their ad? Was it lack of creativity? Were they talked into it by an ad agency? Do they genuinely think the people who buy speakers are all heterosexual males with one-track minds?
We’ve contacted the company for comment and will update if/when we hear back. Because we really have to know: Whyd you do it?
Update: Whyd have now sent us their response. Here’s co-founder Gilles:
“Thank you for your kind words, Re: PH [Product Hunt] launch. Sorry if our video raised confusion. We strongly value diversity and women empowerment. I don’t think that the points you mentioned help to sell the product to any men or women. Sure thing is that it was not our intent. Believe it or not.
We’re music lovers who designed an elegant, voice-controlled speaker with great sound. We wanted to make a short film that is both beautiful and emotional. We believe these are the reasons people will buy it and join our community. We had feedback from women who loved the aesthetic and artistry of the video. We’re a very small team and don’t have women in our team yet. We’ll be hiring soon and hope talented women will join forces to help building a great company!”
In other words, some anonymous women liked it the “artistry” and “aesthetic” of that “beautiful, emotional” bottom, therefore it’s fine. Remind anyone else of this shitshow?