Has Bloomingdale’s Spiked Its Brand?

I have faith that marketers will agree “rapey” is not quite the word you want associated with your brand. Even Bloomingdale’s agrees with that now. On Wednesday, a brand spokeswoman sent Target Marketing an apology for the ad in its catalog that appears to encourage date rape.

Bloomingdale's ad, as seen in the Daily Mail.
Bloomingdale’s ad, as seen in the Daily Mail. The wording is, “Spike your best friend’s eggnog when they’re not looking.”

I have faith that marketers will agree “rapey” is not quite the word you want associated with your brand. Even Bloomingdale’s agrees with that now. On Wednesday, a brand spokeswoman sent Target Marketing an apology for the ad in its catalog that appears to encourage date rape.

Bloomingdale’s is yet another company that could’ve prevented this brand reputation fiasco by implementing just one tip I’ve been advocating for years: Hire a diverse workforce. Ignorance is no longer a defense.

While it’s a false equivalency, I say the same marketers who used to roll their eyes about the importance of mobile and social media marketing now get it, because forecasters believe most shopping will soon happen on mobile devices and social media marketing is yielding results. Hopefully soon, marketers will understand that diversity on marketing teams is valuable, too.

I believe any woman who worked on this ad would’ve seen how offensive it was and would’ve stopped Bloomingdale’s from offending its female buyers — a good percentage of its customers. But Julia Austin, Bloomingdale’s OVP of public relations who responded to Target Marketing’s request for comment on Wednesday, specifically didn’t answer my question, “Did any women work on that ad?”

“In reflection of recent feedback,” she did say, “the copy we used in our recent catalog was inappropriate and in poor taste. Bloomingdale’s sincerely apologizes for this error in judgement [sic].”

As noted by one of Target Marketing’s readers in past posts and actor Angelina Jolie, rape is also not a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue. Yet this may be perceived as simply “sexism” by many marketers and ignored, because they see it an honest mistake in an attempt at a clever ad, rather than being seen as a depiction of the violent crime that it is.

Marketers may, instead, think Snapchat being devalued is a more applicable article to their everyday lives. Let’s test that theory together. Which article will get more clicks and, therefore, be seen as more valuable to you?

In the meantime, here’s what consumers are saying about Bloomingdale’s ad:




Why else would a brand OK an ad showing possible drink tampering?

Please respond in the comments section below.

Author: Heather Fletcher

Heather Fletcher is senior content editor with Target Marketing.

13 thoughts on “Has Bloomingdale’s Spiked Its Brand?”

  1. I work for a major catalog of “adult” novelties and toys. Our founder’s words include the phrase “consenting adults,” and it helps us remember that when people play, it should never be “rapey,” not even like in a Harlequin Romance (do people still read those?).

    That said, the problem with Bloomie’s Blunder isn’t the spiking of the eggnog, it’s the non-consensual manner of it. As to your point about a diverse staff, that’s a good idea. But sometimes even a diverse staff can screw up, especially if they’re in Mad Men Mode.

    Perhaps the copy was intended as a metaphor for bringing in something from Bloomingdale’s for when you want to surprise your friend with something fun and unexpected…?

    Alas, we’re not getting paid for providing art with a poor choice of words, are we?

  2. There is nothing in this article to say that the author confirmed that Bloomingdales does not have diverse representation in their marketing department. While this was clearly a MAJOR gaffe, there is no evidence to support that it was one perpetrated by men – or lack of female representation.

    Contrary to common wit and wisdom, men have not cornered the market on stupidity.

    Meanwhile, hats off to everyone who called Bloomingdales on the carpet for this error. All you have to do is listen to the news of the NFL or college campuses across the US and you have to know that this issue is not a joke.

  3. I won’t even dignify @der with a response to their question below. That aside, I think by “diversity” you really mean “people with some experience who are aware enough of the world around them to instantly recognize a bad idea when they see one.” Those people seem to have been kicked to the curb in many, many organizations.

  4. At the end of the day, gaffe or not, this is in really poor taste. @carolyngoodman:disqus – you’re right, too many people have been kicked to the curb for pointing out the emperor has no clothes in too many situations. I simply can’t believe that no one on the team – male or female – had the good sense to realize that this was in really poor taste. I’ve worked in marketing and advertising for many years, and I just can’t see how this is allowed to go out the door without someone raising their hand and asking, “Is this really who we are as a brand?”

    I’ve seen the occasional misspelling. I just recently saw the word “holidays” spelled “Holdiays” in a full color, full page print ad. Those are mistakes that can happen – especially when small marketing departments are under the gun. But to “inadvertently” align your brand with a societal problem that has made major headlines in the recent past? Date rape and Bloomingdale’s? Seriously?

  5. I see this as a sad example of what some brands will do to get attention and sales. Been in the business for years and do not see this is a gaffe at all but a ploy to use shock value to break through the ad clutter and get people to go to your website to explore further. When you go to their website you are immediateluy greeted with huge discounts, up to 70%. Guessing they wrote the apology when they wrote the ad, knowing that both would drive web traffic. If this is how low brands will stoop to drive website views, we truly live in a sad and mixed up world. I can only hope that consumers will go find great products and discounts at competitors who have not succumbed to unethical ploys like this. Thanks Heather for writing this article.

    1. OMG! I pray this gaffe was NOT a pre-determined strategy to drive awareness and web visits, as you suggest @JeanetteMawMcMurtry. That would bring marketing to a new, all-time, low. Makes me ashamed to be in this business.

      1. Sadly controversy sells and any publicity drives web traffic, name recognition and support. Just ask Donald Trump. We’ve seen way too much gain from bad PR to think this could be coincidence. Remember all the comments about A&F’s “we don’t want fat people in our clothes” comment. Sales going strong for this brand! We’ll never really know.

  6. Do we know this ad wasn’t written by a woman? From this ad I can draw no conclusion about the diversity of the Bloomngdale’s marketing workforce.

  7. Here’s an idea for anyone else who’s as late to this party as I am. Once you have the copy and some semblance of the ad, print it out, walk it around the sidewalk and ask people what they think of it. Whatever happened to focus groups? For crying out loud, get at least one, relatively impartial person to read it and don’t get offended when they say, “Seems a little rapey to me.”

    When did we forget that working in small groups on the same project for a long time can lead to tunnel vision? I don’t blame a lack of diversity, how ever you define it. I blame a lack of common sense QC/review/editing steps. Or maybe common sense is just not very common.

  8. I will say the emperor has no clothes! And in this case it is everyone jumping on the bandwagon of kill Bloomingdales. The ad MIGHT be in poor taste, however it says “spike the drink” since when has a little shot of alcohol been such an issue? One idiot got offended and drummed up a troop of morons to go along. Is it the best ad ever? is it the most offensive ad ever? No, not by a long shot (now I’ve offended everyone by making a gun reference) is the answer to both questions.

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