"BIC Pens for Her" Get Virally Skewered: A Lesson for Innovators, in Ink

71r4xl7KJ6L._SL1300_Thanks to hilariously clever Amazon reviewers and then bumps from Ellen DeGeneres and the Huffington Post, there has been a lot of buzz over the past few months (popping up again today via George Takei on Facebook) about BIC's questionably appropriate "Pens for Her," boasting a "thin barrel to fit a woman's hand" -- black ink pens in pretty pastel colors, "elegantly designed just for her!" Does anyone think that BIC knew its target market well when it launched this endeavor? Anyone?

Here's how BIC's target market, indeed, is reacting, in the form of the most popular Amazon reviews from adult females:

"Since I've begun using these pens, men have found me more attractive and approchable...." - Tracy

"I don't know what I've been doing all my life writing with men's pens." - Kels

"I can't find a switch to turn it on, and it didn't come with batteries. This is not the "for her" product I was expecting. At all." - M

"I was elated to find this product, but I think it should cost 24% less than Bic for Men to adjust to my delicate feminine salary. As a secretary in the typing pool I would be able to buy so many more pens for me and my friends if these sparkly pastel gems were less expensive!" - Madeline

The snarky reviews, which number over a thousand and come from both women and men, are hilarious but only thinly mask an underlying vitriol, bordering on disbelief at the company's cluelessness. Perhaps worse for BIC, this is coming at a time when women-as-seriously-equal issues are prominent in the marketplace, bouyed by a leaning-in Sheryl Sandberg.  And since Ellen DeGeneres' show in late 2012, it just keeps coming back around, now in month six.

Here's an easy lesson this teaches for anyone bringing innovation to market: You need to achieve product/market fit. It is critical.

  • Talk to real target customers about what they want. Get out of your offices. Ask them. If they don't want what you have...
  • Ask yourself, "have I identified the wrong target customers? Or do I need to adapt my innovation to better meet my target customers' needs?" And then act accordingly, repeating the previous step until you get it right. If you don't know the answer...
  • Consider failing fast (but protect yourself by avoiding failing in front of millions); consider also spending a dollar now on market testing to avoid wasting major money on a failed launch later.
 You can write this one in ink. Pretty purple ink or straight-up black.