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Marketing to Women: Why the ‘Pink It and Shrink It’ Strategy Doesn’t Always Work

There’s a popular mantra out there that some marketers today still rely on to expand their product offerings to attract women: “pink it and shrink it.” This strategy involves taking an everyday product, producing it in a Pepto-Bismol-pink shade, and making it smaller for women to use.

This method is implemented with razors (the most common offender), ear buds, drills, tool boxes…and the list goes on and on. The main issue with this strategy, though, is that the real problems are rarely addressed. The reason razors are the most common offender is the simple fact that shaving your legs is a lot different than shaving your face.

Suggestion Box

Thankfully, some companies are getting the hint and are actually listening to women’s complaints about “pink it and shrink it.” A decade ago, the National Football League (NFL) applied this slightly offensive and inaccurate strategy to appeal to female fans. You could always find jerseys in pink and white with sparkly numbers and players’ names, instead of the traditional colors that are seen on the field. While some women loved this idea, not everyone was on board. Now the option to find women’s shirts and jerseys in say, orange and navy blue like the players are wearing, is a lot easier.

Recently, the NFL women’s store changed strategies to offer more chic choices rather than just smaller versions of the men’s style. The “Fit for You” campaign illustrates the more fitted and less boxy shirt styles that are available for women to wear on game day; ads for this campaign have been spotted in magazines like InStyle, Lucky, People, and even Sports Illustrated. It’s refreshing to hear that they finally took notice and have these styles available!

According to the NFL’s VP of Consumer Products, Tracey Bieczinski, there are 79 million female fans that make up 44% of its NFL fan base. Not exactly a slim minority compared to male fans, at least not the way I understand majorities and minorities.

In order to better sell to their fans, the NFL has also increased its clothing line to not only include jerseys, but also denim skirts, hair clips, jewelry, nail polishes in team colors, and also fancy high-end bags from designer Anastasia Moda that cost upwards of $2,995 for a jeweled clutch.

Since this shift from their strategy of “pink it and shrink it” they have noticed an increase in women shoppers and a 40% increase in September alone. This proves that maybe women aren’t just pink and sparkle-obsessed shoppers but want choices and options.

Game Time Graphic

At a press event in New York attendees swooned over furry boots, bags, and team nail polishes that were on display. Ms. Bieczinski mentioned that there were ideas for new products not yet in the works, but considered cosmetics, gloves, and even possibly fragrances. Rest assured, these new fragrances will not evoke images of locker rooms.

Even if there are no guarantees of a victory for their favorite team, women can still feel confident in their NFL merchandise next time they watch the big game.

What do you think about the whole “pink it and shrink it” philosophy that some companies use? Would you be more willing to buy something for yourself or a girlfriend/wife if it were pink? Sound off below!


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  1. Jana Quinn

    Excellent article, Amy. I don’t know why I’m surprised that “pink it and shrink it” is so common that there’s a catchphrase, but I somehow am. For example, I love comic books and their heroes. I like to buy t-shirts with their heroes. My biggest problems are either running into men’s only sizes or only female fitted shirts with female characters. When looking to market to women within in a male-heavy interest (sports and comics, for example), what makes product developers think that going an overly feminized route would make sense?

    Glad to see that a wider selection is being made available in some of these areas. Great topic!

    • amy

      Aww, thanks for commenting and your compliments Jana 🙂

      Your statement: “My biggest problems are either running into men’s only sizes or only female fitted shirts with female characters”, sums up exactly this problem. You can either find manly sizes (Large, XL, XXL) which swallow you up or insanely “girly” styles. There wasn’t a happy medium!

      I’m glad to see the NFL choosing to buck this trend, I’m hoping others do to.

      • Amanda

        Yep. What a bummer (until now)! So much of the sports clothing comes in Mens sizes and then a women’s S and M sizes. I’m glad they’re waking up to realize that making a variety of womens colors and sizes, will bring them more sales. =)

  2. Mandy Kilinskis

    As I just told you in the office, I would purchase all of these pink items that you linked to in this article. However, I totally agree that this shouldn’t be the only option–especially when it comes to sport jerseys. The only jersey that I have ever owned is a Michael Jordan basketball jersey, and even though they didn’t have pink option, I would’ve never wanted one. After all, I wanted an “authentic” MJ jersey. Michael Jordan didn’t wear pink.

    • amy

      It’s funny that I chose to write this blog in the first place because my friends from college used to call me “pinkie”. Not only do I love wearing the color, but I also had pens, folders, day planners, and a backpack that was pink. I personally love it, but also like to have options. That’s one reason I love Apple’s products for coming in an assortment of colors.

      I don’t think anyone can blame you for wanting to be like Mike and have a similar jersey 😉

  3. Joseph Giorgi

    I can see why women would be opposed to the whole “pink it and shrink it” approach to marketing: it’s condescending to say the least.

    Glad to hear that the NFL has finally come to its senses in terms of its attitude toward the female fan base. I mean, c’mon, if 44% of your supporters are women, then you’d better be doing your damnedest to cater to their interests.

    Great post, Amy!

    • amy

      Thanks for reading and commenting Joe! It’s great to have options, but merely having the product available in men’s sizes or women’s sizes in pink isn’t what those 44% of NFL fans are looking for. I’m glad they listened and have made adjustments.

      • Amanda

        There are several NFL and sports fans in my family, and many of them are women! I am so glad to see the NFL coming around!

  4. Lisa B

    I’m with you! I love pink too but I object to it being a women-only color. I love a man in a nice pink shirt, or a pink tie.

    • amy

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting Lisa!

      I wouldn’t consider blue to be a man-only color, so I don’t think it’s fair that pink has to be a woman-only color. It’s 2011, I think we can move past this.

      P.s I have yet to hear a woman complain about a guy dressed up in a pink collared shirt or wearing a pink tie with a black shirt 😉

  5. Jen

    I don’t necessary like the “pink it and shrink it” idea, but I have to say I really like the pink jerseys (honestly I thought they were for beast cancer awareness). I like being girly but also supportive to the team 🙂 I also like how the NFL is catering to women’s wants. I’ve seen some super cute Chicago Bears bags and jewelry!

    Nice post, Amy. Great topic.

    • amy

      When companies use the “pink it and shrink it” style it can come across as condescending when it’s the only color available. I also like the color green, where’s my green tool kit??

      I know some sport teams have breast cancer awareness-styled jerseys, so you are right. Especially football jerseys since their season is right during October which is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

      Thanks Jen for commenting 🙂

  6. JPorretto

    I’m a Math dork, so you have to indulge me here…

    I think that 44% number might be misleading. What 44%? Ticket sales? Viewership? A “do you like this” Poll? Those are all very different things. If they’re trying to market more to women, they’d pick the highest percentage from across all their various research in their marketing to appeal better to their target demographic.

    The NFL needed to do better marketing to women and has. But I still doubt that there’s as many female fans as they lead us to believe (from a marketing/ stats perspective).

    • amy

      That’s an interesting and valid point, Jeff. The study size wasn’t mentioned, but would play an important role in the validity of it. However, I think nonetheless that it was time for more options for women in terms of team clothing. Not everyone wants to wear a pink, bedazzled Bear’s jersey LOL

  7. Eric

    Ironically, it goes both ways, since the latter part of the 20th century saw a movement toward more, er, “Metro(?)” men. Painting it gunmetal gray and making it smell like cedar doesn’t always cut it. Small steps. It’s still moderately awkward walking into an ULTA store and looking for the needle-in-a-haystack section for men, which, literally, is a couple shelves. Sure, we’re the minority when it comes to their sales, but – like with the football merch – it never hurts to not only include more than your primary demographic, but make them feel included, too (i.e., simply making smaller-sized jerseys instead of making them all pink). Funny to think they’ve actually coined a term for the phenomenon, but it’s something that’s come to mind. Good post, Amy!

    • amy

      That’s an excellent point, Eric. The issue can go both ways very easily. I think an important tidbit companies can pull away is that options are vital to consumers. No one wants to feel like they’re being told from a company, “take it or leave it, because this is all we’ve got”. Not very good business sense.

  8. Amanda

    Love this post Amy! I had never heard that phrase “pink it and shrink it” before. But I think it’s very clever; I’ve noticed soo many products using this philosophy. I don’t mind many of my items pink, but if there were more color options, I’d probably choose them instead of black. As for a jersey, I’d rather have authentic team colors–but for other items like hair ties, purses, etc. bring on the fun colors! =) Also, as for the jerseys–they need to have more sizing AND fit options for sure! All women are not a size 6, and the larger womens sizes (that they hopefully are starting to offer) should still have a womanly shape to them, in my opinion. The boxy mens shapes are not very cute on us!

    • amy

      Your quote, “I don’t mind many of my items pink, but if there were more color options, I’d probably choose them instead of black,” is one that I agree with too! While I’m personally more likely to choose pink products, that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t choose green or blue. If my options are pink or black, I’d go for pink because some color is better than no color – in my opinion.

      A few years ago I hunted around for a Ryan Theriot shirt since he was my favorite Chicago Cub’s player. I could find plenty of the shirts in the ‘true’ cub colors in the men’s department, but for women my only choice was a white one with light pink writing. I didn’t like the look of it, so I bought one of the men’s shirts and washed it about five times to get it less boxy looking. The MLB has more options available now for women, so I’m glad the NFL does too!

  9. Jill Tooley

    As you know, I’m not a big sports fan, but I’d definitely go for classic team colors over girly variants. I’ve never been particularly fond of pink (it’s just OKAY) so this whole trend has always gone over my head somewhat. You’re right, the pink razors are probably the most common thing I see in stores with this “pink it and shrink it” mindset attached. And you know what? Those razors are usually cheap and crappy! I’d spring for a more expensive, non-pink razor if it’ll do the job better. It’s kind of offensive that some advertisers are still stuck on that “pink is for girls, blue is for boys” chestnut!

    • Amy Swanson

      I don’t know why this “chestnut” is still popular, I guess it’s the old-school way of thinking that just hasn’t been wiped out yet. One day, we’ll get our awesome razors in a variety of colors… one day.

  10. Dee

    I entirely agree .. I give the sports industry as an example. Why is it that many outdoor gear shops make mens outdoor clothing in all sorts of funky colours: blue, green, orange, yellow etc yet if you look at the female equivalent it either does not even exist or is only available in pink or purple or some revolting pastel colour!? It is so irritating and feels as if the sports industry hugely archetypes what women want. I like pink, certain shades of purple but cannot stand it on my outdoor running, climbing, hiking gear

  11. Lisa Schwab

    Hey Amy- when was this post written? Trying to see when the NFL reference was- thank you!

    • Amy Hoidas

      Hey Lisa, thanks for stopping by 🙂 This post was published in Oct. 2011. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help answer. Have a great week!

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