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Pink Ladies, Pink Pyramids, and Pink Truths

I have never had a Pink Lady. Frankly, I would be embarrassed to order one. But the recipes online sounded good.

This week, The Economist has an article about the declining market for apples in the UK.  Young Brits are not eating apples at the rate their grandparents did, causing a shift in what is bought, sold, and grown in the world of fruit.

What caught my eye was the rise of a certain branded apple, the Pink Lady, against this downward spiral. The Economist attributed the Pink Lady’s ascent to branding, mentioning that this relative newcomer (the varietal, Cripps Pink, and the brand are only 21 years old) is the best known apple among women and had sponsored a women’s expedition to the North Pole, as well as a transatlantic rowing team.

I am always looking for stories where an appeal to women as women is making a difference.  I am also usually pulled in by anything kitschy and pink (Mary Kay cars and such). So I decided to look a little further.

Pink Ladies are now the best known apple among women in the UK.

Pink Lady apples have a website and Facebook page focused on the race against breast cancer. Laudable, but not innovative, so I kept looking.  Sure enough, Pink Lady sponsored the world’s first female team to attempt the North Pole in 2005 (but I couldn’t find whether they made it).  However, the transatlantic rowing team was all male and their pink boat ended up needing rescue after 1,700 miles. They have a little car that drives around Britain painted pink, too. The ads are the usual baking demo, only with pink wine and no kids. Online, they try to get women to join their Pink Lady Club and “Share the Love.” Ick.

Behind the marketing is the International Pink Lady Alliance:  27 men and only two women. There is a Pink Lady case study on the web.  It outlines the brand’s stakeholders, which includes all its various growers, retailers, and owners–but not its consumers. The target audience is unequivocally female, broken into two tiers:  young mothers with “disposable income” and “Golden Oldies”–by which they mean older women. The marketing team clearly needs rescue, too, as their work is at best uninspired and at worst condescending. But there were lots of people raving online about how good the apples are and trying to find out how they could grow them at home.  So, I decided The Economist is WRONG because it clearly isn’t the branding building Pink Lady sales. For once, it’s the product.

In 1960, a paralegal named Lynne Seemayer climbed up over this Malibu tunnel at night and painted this "Pink Lady."

A fun by-product of my search was finding all the different things “Pink Lady” can mean.  There is the cocktail, of course, and the girl gang in Grease.  But it’s also the name of a very popular Korean webtoon. During World War II, a poison called “pink lady” was added to the 180 proof grain alcohol used in torpedo motors–to keep the American submariners from drinking it (I swear I did not make this up).  There was a Japanese singing duo called “Pink Lady” in the 1970s.  The youtube video of them singing their popular song, “UFO,” is pretty lame, but the comments suggest they still have a following. This singing team inspired an anime spin-off, Pink Lady Monogatari, and became an American tv show, also called “Pink Lady” (which ranked 39th in TV Guide’s list of 50 worst shows of all time).

Mary Kay famously "gives" their best performers a pink car. On Pink Truth, they say it's a scam.

Eventually, I stumbled upon a site called “Pink Truth,” where a group of women blog about their bad Mary Kay experiences.  One of the most frequent topics is the car (you can start here). Last spring, The Atlantic published a very disturbing article about Mary Kay called “The Pink Pyramid Scheme.” A friend of mine, an expert on such schemes, tells me about two-thirds of the victims of multilevel marketing (which is the technical name for pyramid scheme) are female.

So what do all these pink things have in common?  Leaving aside the torpedo juice, they are ways the world economy takes advantage of women.  Outfits like Pink Lady sell us stuff, make a fortune on their brands, insult our intelligence with their advertising, and don’t even consider us stakeholders. Those same companies we buy from won’t hire us into management positions or promote us to leadership. (Remember “Don’t buy where you can’t work“?  We need to revive it, this time for women.)  There is a whole subsegment of marketing–the multilevel scheme–that preys mostly on women, yet is seldom the focus of serious regulatory interest.

Women have for centuries done most of the buying, yet participate in the money economy in only the most limited ways.  It’s time for economic power to be our focus. That is the plain, pink, truth.


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