Lessons from Microsoft’s smart bra: How NOT to market a product

Screen Shot 2013-12-16 at 10.32.31 AMSilly marketing or publicity stunt? Microsoft’s “smart” bra is designed to assist women to fight the urge to reach for junk food when stressed. The bra has an EKG monitor that reads bodily signals that indicate the wearer is stressed. Notification is made via an app on the wearer’s smart phone called EmoTree.

The invention comes at a time when smart fitness devices are already hot on the market. There’s fitness bracelet brands like Fitbit, Jawbone, and W/Me that provide users with data about calories burned, quality of sleep, and emotional state. Who knows why Microsoft  dubbed one of its newest inventions as a tool  specifically for women who are emotional eaters? This product is similar to the bracelets above but is placed in a bra and named for emo-eating women.

Here are three things you don’t want to do when marketing your new product:

Offend the product’s target audience

It baffles me why Microsoft decided to specifically label this product for use by women with emotional eating problems. It’s highly offensive to single out women as the only sex with these eating issues and to integrate technology into a type of clothing that only women wear.

If it were on sale this holiday season, I’m sure some women would receive the smart bra as a malicious (you could lose a little weight) holiday gift. Upsetting your target audience isn’t going to make you any friends.

Make inaccurate assumptions

If you really want to present a product poorly, center your marketing message and product information around a set of assumptions that aren’t based on facts and are unappealing to the market.

Microsoft’s smart bra assumes:

  • All women deal with stress by eating junk food
  • Only women need to be conscious of their eating habits
  • Knowledge is the same as willpower: if women know they are stressed they will be empowered to stop eating

This set of assumptions mirrors the negative cultural stereotypes that women battle every day from the media. Messages like: “You need to keep track of your weight” “You are expected to be beautiful” “You will look less professional with a spare tire around your waist.” That last one is a stretch, but you get the idea.

Turn a positive into a negative

smart bra
Image : Nypost.com.

Most women see their breasts as one of their prized possessions (after their mind of course). Creating a product that changes the way a woman views one of her best assets is uncharted territory. Women should feel confident and proud when they get dressed each day, not have a panic-inducing reminder of their stress level in their brassiere.

Good Intentions?

Microsoft’s rebuff to the criticism that they’ve received indicates that they actually just wanted to help people notice when they are in different mood states. Also, that they attempted to create a similar product for men but it didn’t work. Regardless of Microsoft’s response, the company chose to communicate about the bra as something to fight emotional eating (as if they were nobly helping the masses of overweight women in the world).

Now, there’s a fair amount of theory and science that shows that gathering data about how your emotions work and how they change over time is useful in making the best daily decisions about work and relationships (see EI). But, because this bra doesn’t tell women anything more about their emotional state than “Attention: you are stressed,” it’s not worth it to accessorize your lingerie with this fancy EKG monitor.

Mini rant: Additionally, what’s the deal with infusing tech into women’s underwear for communication/marketing purposes? The Tweeting bra @tweetingbra created by OgilvyOne Athens for breast cancer awareness tweets “Don’t forget to check your breasts women #tweetingbra.” every time it’s taken off. Now, this product is more closely related to its desired outcome, but what woman in her right mind would want to tell twitter-verse that she’s taken her bra off? Bring on more bra novelties.

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