How do you get girls interested in careers in science? By demonstrating the world-altering effects and fascinating subject matter those careers often deal with…or by wooing them with things girls totally love, like lipstick, nail polish, and being gawked at by guys? The European Union went with the latter. And it did not go over well.
To be fair, the E.U. had its heart in the right place – according to Time, females account for 45 percent of all PhD’s earned in Europe, but only roughly a third of science researchers. Their solution was to create a three-year campaign targeted at girls ages 13 to 17 that would make science seem “cool.” A legitimately respectable plan. If only the campaign itself had yielded a video even half as respectable. The now-pulled video is being (rightly) admonished and mocked by people and organizations all over the globe as being incredibly sexist.
What could have been an inspirational message to girls and women, and maybe even an example for other countries to follow (like the U.S. – there are far fewer women than men in science and engineering jobs here), is instead proving to be a harrowing PR tale of what-not-to-do.
Take note, advertisers: you are not Donald Draper and this is not Mad Men. If your goal is to inspire women to consider themselves equal to men, and just as capable of holding positions in a male-dominated field, it’s probably best not to completely objectify and over-sexualize the women in your ad. Or liken a serious career to applying blush.