Summer's Eve pulled three videos off its website and YouTube on Wednesday following claims that they were racially insensitive.
The videos (scroll down to watch them), part of the feminine-care company's new "Hail to the V" campaign by The Richards Group in Dallas, featured talking hand-puppets representing women's vaginas. Two of the spots in particular, featuring black and Hispanic characters, were criticized by some viewers, who complained that the voice work was racially stereotypical.
The black woman is "Pam Grier and Lil' Kim all wrapped in to one," wrote one online critic, while the Latina woman opens with the cry, "Ay-yi-yi." (The Caucasian hand puppet remains on the website, narrating a short animated intro, but all three longer ads are gone.)
Under pressure, agency and client stood by the videos last week, with agency founder Stan Richards saying they were meant to be "relatable," not stereotypical. But on Wednesday, Richards PR executive Stacie Barnett told Adweek that the criticism had begun to overshadow the message and goal of the larger campaign—to educate women about their anatomy and break down taboos in talking about it—and that the online videos had to go.
"Stereotyping or being offensive was not our intention in any way, shape, or form," said Barnett. "The decision to take the videos down is about acknowledging that there's backlash here. We want to move beyond that and focus on the greater mission."
Agency and client had expected the campaign to be provocative, Barnett said, but for its frank talk about female anatomy, not for any racial issues. (And indeed, it was parodied by Stephen Colbert on Monday night, in a segment Barnett said the agency found amusing.) "We do not think they are stereotypical, nor did we obviously intend that. However, it's a subjective point of view," said Barnett. "There seems to be an important perception out there that they may be, and we would never want to perpetuate that."
Barnett said agency and client remain strongly committed to the rest of the campaign, which includes a 60-second anthem spot and an online quiz about female anatomy called ID the V, which Barnett said 16,000 women had completed in the past two weeks.
Much of the criticism of the hand-puppet videos online has been inseparable from criticism about Summer's Eve products themselves. Some people are simply opposed to the products, which could make them pre-disposed to oppose any marketing of them.
Barnett acknowledged that is a barrier for the brand, but she made a distinction between douching products and the cleansers being advertised in this campaign.
"The product that women and the medical community have questioned whether it is necessary is douching," she said. "This campaign is marketing the external cleanser, cloth and wash, which is no different than a special hand cream, eye cream, body wash, etc. Now, are these things necessary? No. But cosmetically, as women, we have those choices."
She added: "The bigger issue is: Do I think the baggage that Summer's Eve has had related to its heritage of douche is part of this [current criticism]? Absolutely. There are people who may always associate Summer's Eve only with douche, and therefore look upon it either with mockery or a negative perception. And that's fine. But there are a lot of women who want these products, right or wrong, necessary or not. And that's who we want to educate."
Despite this being its second PR crisis in two years, Barnett said the brand can and will bounce back. "We've got to rebound from this, and that's what we're committed to doing," she said.