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The sexist commercials of Pandora radio

Pandora LogoI listen to Pandora Internet radio often, and it’s clear Pandora knows a few things about me. It knows where I live, how old I am, and above all, it knows I’m a dude. Between songs, I hear commercials for manly stuff. I was curious which ads Pandora would play if it didn’t know I have testicles, so I decided to go undercover and listen to the service for a few days as a girl. The results were revealing.

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Update, April 6, 2011: Nissan copywriter didn’t mean to be sexist

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Advertisers have always used targeting to reach the right audience. Hence, ads for soap air during soap operas.

But radio ads specifically written for men or women—assuming no one of the opposite sex will ever hear them—are a new breed, never possible before Internet radio. It lets advertisers be even more overt in how they pitch their products. Sometimes the results are clumsy and sexist.

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Here are a few ads I heard ONLY when I identified myself a male listener:

Nissan: Be promiscuous with the ladies.

“Why be monogamous with your song selection? Get new music that will let any girl within earshot know just how cultured you are. Consider the all new Nissan Juke your wingman. We put a turbo in a sportcross and we’re gonna put a turbo in your playlist. So you can be as promiscuous with the ladies as you are with your music.”

Soap.com: We’ve got condoms.

“Hey man. The easiest way to get everyday guy stuff is Soap.com. Get the best prices on razors, shampoo, body spray, toilet paper, even condoms, with free overnight delivery. Enter code SOAPGUY for 20% off your first Soap.com order. That’s code SOAPGUY.”

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And here are a few ads I heard only when I identified myself as a female listener:

Soap.com: We’ve got “household essentials.”

“Tired of running around town for household essentials? Try Soap.com. It’s the convenient way to get great prices on health, beauty and household essentials with free overnight delivery. Get 20% off your first Soap.com order. Enter code SHOPTODAY at checkout. That’s code SHOPTODAY.”

Visatprint: We print mommy cards.

“Thanks New York listeners. You’ve been selected to receive 250 free business cards from Vistaprint. Use them as networking cards, dating cards, mommy cards and more. Visit Vistaprint.com/thanksny or click on the Vistaprint banner ad to start designing your custom cards. Order today and get a special bonus offer of 25% off all Vistaprint products, including postcards, invitations, labels, photo books and more.”

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Interesting, right?

I singled out Soap.com as one of the few advertisers who pitch the same service to both men and women, but with different copy. They also offer different coupon codes, so they can track how well each ad is working. Men are getting an obviously targeted ad about condoms and body spray, while women are getting a neutral ad that could appeal to anybody. Does Soap.com have a hard time attracting men with a basic pitch about “household essentials?” Also, do they think only men buy condoms?

Then there’s Vistaprint. Logged in as a guy, I used to hear Vistaprint ads all the time offering free business cards, but they stopped playing recently, so I don’t have a recording of one. Logged in as a girl, I heard a different pitch that mentions “dating cards” and “mommy cards” (whatever those are). Does Vistaprint’s marketing plan call for pitching business products to men, while pitching stuff about dating and motherhood to women? (Update: In fairness to Vistaprint, later on when I was listening to Pandora as a “male,” I heard the “mommy cards” version of this ad. I was wrong to suggest that Vistaprint markets dating and mommy products to women only.)

Finally, the Nissan Juke. They’re going to put a turbo in my playlist so I can be promiscuous with the ladies. Fire your copywriter!

(Pandora, to its credit, is totally transparent with their users about how they use targeting.)

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Related post: Can the Nissan Juke get anything right? Watch this TV commercial promoting reckless driving.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Advertising, Marketing, Technology

One comment

  1. Chuck Charles says:

    Is it really sexist? This is like saying advertisers run age-ist commercials during the O’Reilly factor, even though his audience is largely over 60 and spending money on the age-related items they advertise. And the voiceover in those speaks like an old person, is reassuring, deliberate, a little cranky. I think commercials are *generally* the least political-correctness-corrupted entertainment around because they succeed based on selling the right thing to a demographic. They can’t pretend everyone is exactly the same. It’s almost, ironically, the most truthful medium we have, in a twisted way. I’m to the left of Che on most issues but I don’t want to pretend that ad copy needs to be gender nuetral, otherwise it’s offensive. It’s just effective. Plus, what does it mean if I read the copy you posted and find myself interested in the ad because it sounds like the way I talk? I’m a good guy, faithful but have a wandering eye. I’m a hard worker, make a good living, good friend. Alpha male, play sports, a little over the hill. This commercial speaks to me way better than something gender nuetral, or something spoken in a feminie voice advertising the rich scents of the soap, for instance. Really, what it sounds like to me, is that you don’t personally connect with the typical male characteristics advertised to here. And that’s fine. But it doesn’t make the rest of us cavemen, or the advertisers sexist. It just means you’re you, and I’m not.

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