If they can see us, they can fleece us
How much lower can menopause marketing go?
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Earlier this week I was mindlessly scrolling the internet, as is my wont, when I came across the picture above, choked on my decidedly un-pink black coffee (verboten for the menopausal laydee, don’t you know) and burst out laughing. It was attached to a hysterical piece by Lucy Sweet. I was going to quote some of it here, and then I realised I’d end up reproducing the whole thing, so here it is for your snorting pleasure.
The thing is, it’s not a joke, is it? If only. This “piss weak beverage with a picture of flowers on it” is symptomatic of the way society is now embracing menopause and the poor mugs (aka 50% of the population, give or take a percentage point) who experience it. Sick of being kept in the dark and fed BS we, the aforementioned mugs, have forced ourselves into the 21st century’s capitalist gaze and guess what? We are now being fed even more BS, just at a higher price and in pinker packaging.
No change there then.
I’m loath to say that Twinings “menopause tea” (it brings me out in a rash even typing that) is the nadir of menopause marketing, because I suspect there are far murkier depths yet to be plumbed, but it’s certainly a new low in a trend that’s been gaining strength for the past couple of years. One that started around the time women started telling beauty companies where they could stuff their “anti-aging” products and those canny conglomerates saw an opportunity to replace the dread “anti-aging” with “menopause”, repackage it pink (yes Boots, I am looking at you) and carry on regardless.
Now, I’m not here to stick it to Boots particularly. I’m a fan. I have an advantage card and everything. (US readers, that’s basically a Walgreens loyalty card. Yes, I know.) And fundamentally No7 skincare does what it says on the tin, if usually at a slightly higher price than is quite justifiable. However, its menopause skincare range is having a laugh. Not because it’s not perfectly good, it is. For my skin. Which is combination bordering on dry. But that doesn’t mean it is going to be as good for the next menopausal woman, one whose skin is, say, oilier than mine. Or that it works any better than any of the very many other skincare products containing lipids, ceramide and hyaluronic acid.
Late last year I was also sent a range of hair products for “menopausal hair”. I don’t know if they worked, I haven’t tried them, because it turned out that the menopausal hair the product was actually targeting was fine and thinning, and mine is thick and wiry and not going anywhere fast. Wouldn’t it have been more, you know, customer-friendly (dare I say it, honest) to market it as for fine and thinning hair? All menopausal hair, like all menopausal skin, not being created equal. When I pointed this out to the PR, she said blithely, “No worries, you can pass it on to someone with fine hair to try”. Not my point. But, oh well.
These are not isolated incidents, there are hundreds more “menopause products” where these came from.
And it’s not just skincare and beverage companies who are getting in on the act. There are plenty of clothing ranges that claim to soak up our sweats and cool our hot flushes. From Primark’s menopause nightwear and “base layers” with “anti-flush technology, cooling yarn and odour and temperature control,” to Become’s anti-flush night dresses. I’m sure you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this just the anti-wicking fabric found in sportswear painted pink and with a zero added on?
(Quick aside: let’s be clear, I’m not dismissing the need - but if you’ve ever experienced night sweats, you’ll know an anti-wicking nightie is just going to get washed away in the flood. I don’t know about you, but I needed a full blown anti-wicking duvet and mattress. Wait right here while I patent that.)
This time last year it was reported that menopausal and perimenopausal women represented “an untapped market worth an estimated $16bn” so it’s hardly surprising that Twinings, Boots et al have set their best brains to grabbing some of it. Capitalism innit. But I can’t help wondering if it crossed their mind to ask, ooh the women they were targeting, what they actually want. Because I speak to women over 40/50/60 and beyond most days and what they/we actually want is products that work for our skin type, clothes that make us feel like we’re still us but better, tea that, y’know, tastes nice. (I’m pretty sure if you’re a hardcore fan of peach tea, you’ll buy it, whether or not it has menopause on the packet.) And, perhaps, although this might be a bit much, not to be lumped together as if we are one homogenous blob.
We want to be heard, listened to, even, whisper it, seen. Instead we get patronised, condescended to, shafted, fleeced.
I’m not sure that it’s directly connected, but it certainly feels tangentially so: last week, it was announced that Jo Sykes, creative director of Jigsaw who was widely regarded as A Good Thing was removed by the newish CEO Hash Ladha (former chief executive of Oasis and Warehouse) apparently because he sees the role of creative director as “redundant.” Sykes, 44, has a wealth of experience and credibility in the hard-to-please fashion industry, and during her four year tenure had used that to, not only put Jigsaw back on the radar through collaborations with the likes of Collagerie and Roksanda, but to put the brand back into profit. And, crucially, back in the wardrobes of many women I know who’d previously discounted Jigsaw as frumpy. Jigsaw had identified a niche (one it should arguably always have occupied) and, under Sykes, was making a success of it. If this represented some sort of problem, I suspect it was that that money was coming from midlife women who wanted to buy a great dress, one that made them feel fantastic, look stylish, maybe even the tiniest bit edgy, wear it and then wear it again. And who wants their (our?) money? Not Jigsaw, clearly.
This might feel disconnected, but to me it isn’t. It’s symptomatic of the wider trend to discount what midlife women actually want in favour of what someone in marketing thinks we should want. Why give us what we actually want, what we’d happily pay a premium for, when you can take something you’ve already got in the cupboard, repackage it pink and print menopause on it. It’s like the pink bic razor all over again. But older.
When I started going through perimenopause in my mid-40s, you only had to say the word out loud for everyone to start backing away as if you were contagious. When I started writing the book The Shift, in the autumn of 2019, things were just barely starting to change. Scroll forward to, well, now, and menopause is well and truly on the radar. (To the extent that I suspect a backlash is less than minutes away, and there’s still a shortage of HRT.)
The objective, I think, was for menopause to become part of everyday conversation, to be accepted as just another life stage, for half the population. But far from being genuinely accepted and destigmatised, it’s been turned into just another shopping opportunity, a way of keeping us in our box and taking our cash at the same time. Here, the boys in the marketing department seem to be saying, have some “insipid old lady tea” (as Lucy Sweet so aptly puts it) and then pop off and do that knitting and stop bothering us.
It makes me think that the much-vaunted invisibility of this life-stage is much maligned. As the legends that are Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in Grace and Frankie put it, “if they can’t see us, they can’t stop us”. Well, I’ve got something to add to that: if they can see us, they can fleece us.