A Halifax mall is apologizing after launching a series of back-to-school shopping ads that provoked a torrent of outrage from people who denounced the campaign as sexist for depicting young girls in a dim light.
The Mic Mac Mall yanked the ads Thursday following a public backlash that reverberated on social media and even garnered the attention of popular U.S. website BuzzFeed.
“Mic Mac Mall is sincerely sorry for offending its customers,” Rebecca Logan, the mall’s marketing director, said Thursday in a statement.
“We’ve heard what our customers have to say and we understand why you’re angry. It was never intended to be offensive.”
Logan declined requests for an interview, saying the mall would make no further comments beyond its statement.
The ad campaign, which ran for a week on radio, television, billboards and online, featured illustrations of young girls with lines like, “My favourite class? Shop!” and “Mixing patterns _ now that’s a science!”
Another ad said: “Social studies? Does posting my new boots on Facebook count?”
The campaign generated a fierce response from people who said it reinforced gender stereotypes of young women as ditzes interested only in shopping and not education.
“I just feel like it’s not really fair to portray women as the only thing they’re excited about going back to school is shopping and mixing patterns,” said Kierra Gallant, a 19-year-old science student at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish, N.S.
Sarah Paynter, a student at University of King’s College in Halifax, said she found the campaign sexist but “not shocking.”
“Obviously they’re going to always use little skinny women running around the shopping mall – I mean, that’s a fact of life and that’s going to take a long time to change,” said Paynter, 19.
“I’m just really surprised they had the gall… to go in and take on science.”
The mall initially went on the defensive, tweeting on Tuesday: “The campaign’s intent was to correlate school subjects to shopping & our strong social media presence in a humorous & light hearted manner.”
The public relations fumble is not the first time this year that Halifax has been in the spotlight for questionable marketing strategy.
In the spring, Mount Saint Vincent University launched an ad campaign to solicit donations to build a tribute for women on its campus. Some billboards featured three men in suits and not any women, which stoked outcry and also attracted the attention of BuzzFeed and Gawker, another popular U.S. website.
In an effort to regain customer trust, Logan said the Mic Mac Mall plans on donating $5,000 to a yet-to-be-chosen local organization that focuses on empowering girls.
“While this doesn’t change the fact that the ads were used, we plan to take this opportunity to try and learn from them,” she said.