REBECCA ROBERTS, host:
I have in my hand a tiny candy bar. It's in super girly packaging. It's shiny, and it's pink, and the chocolate even sparkles a little bit.
(Soundbite of chewing)
Hmm. I'm having a Fling, that's right, a Fling. It's the first new candy bar brand Mars has introduced in more than 20 years. And right now, you can only have a Fling in California, but if the hyper-feminine marketing campaign succeeds, this 85-calorie chocolate bar may someday pop up in a bright pink display case near you.
Well, Lisa Johnson has something to say about the Fling. She co-wrote the book, "Don't Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy."
Ms. Johnson hasn't had the pleasure of a Fling, but she has taken a look at the advertising.
Ms. LISA JOHNSON (Co-author, "Don't Think Pink: What Really Makes Women Buy — and How to Increase Your Share of This Crucial Market"): I described it as the full-frontal attack. We'll start with the packaging. It's incredibly vivid pink, very sparkly. Their Web site, same thing, really strong messages, kind of these very sexual silhouettes. The language of it has so much sexual innuendo you could pack it into a trashy novel.
ROBERTS: Yeah, I mean, the sexual innuendo, it's - first of all, it's called a chocolate finger. The whole tag line is naughty but not that naughty. All of the marketing material is about, you know, curious, you can pleasure yourself every day. Let's actually listen to a TV spot. I should remind our listeners this is a candy bar they are advertising, and it starts with what looks like strangers having sex in a store dressing room.
(Soundbite of TV advertisement)
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Woman: A shimmering, indulgent, new chocolate truffle treat with under 85 calories per finger. Fling, it's naughty but not that naughty.
ROBERTS: So then the camera pans up, and you see from the aerial view that they're actually in adjoining stalls, and the woman is eating a fling. What was your impression of that TV spot?
Ms. JOHNSON: At first, I was slightly horrified because I had read some of the other materials, and I thought, oh, no, they're not going to go that far on TV, are they? And so I was slightly relieved that they were - it was a little bit of a play on it, but the creep factor kept coming there for me. I think the leader of this creepy feeling is the word finger because once you call it a chocolate finger, suddenly, you go so far with your mind and where you take everything.
I don't know, I'm blushing now because I feel like the farther I read into their stuff, I want to eat the chocolate, but I don't want anybody to watch me, and I don't want anyone to know the packaging is in my purse.
ROBERTS: As someone who has sat in a lot of ad and marketing strategy meetings, how do you picture this meeting going, where people came up with this ad campaign?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, first, you need to understand that marketing to women within most traditional companies is one of the scariest departments to be in or a person to be in charge of.
Ms. JOHNSON: Because it's so filled with politics. It's - you think you're talking about women consumers, but you end up talking about women in leadership in the company, you end up talking about people's spouses, their daughters, their wives, all the male and female dynamics.
There's a lot of fear, but there is also opportunity. They're looking at the data and they're saying, whoa, the number of women that buy chocolate is very high, and then they're like, we want to do a new chocolate introduction. What is this going to look like? Well, we've got to target women, and I'm sure they've gotten these focus groups and women started to talk about how they - I mean, some of their stats that came out in their press release, how they love chocolate as much as passionate kissing.
Here's where it all broke down, though. They take such a literal interpretation. Our chocolate should be sexual instead of coming more from her peripheral vision and making her laugh, inspiring her around music, there's other things you can do that can hit this note without banging on it.
ROBERTS: Because they've gone so far in this direction, it's a risky campaign, and they're testing it in California. What do you think happens if the test market fails?
Ms. JOHNSON: Well, I think something interesting is happening. I think people are going to like the chocolate and I think they're going to like the calorie count. Who knows about the packaging? I think it's a bit of a marketing mess. I think they will evolve it. The overall campaign feels weird.
Ms. JOHNSON: It feels creepy. It's creepy, exactly. You kind of feel like, you know your uncle who you thought was so sweet, and then he starts asking these weird questions, and you just want to go, eww.
(Soundbite of laughter)
It's when, I mean, Mars was our uncle. They were the nice uncle, handing us Snickers, you know?
ROBERTS: Lisa Johnson is an author and owns Reach Group, a consulting company. She lives in Portland, Oregon.
Thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. JOHNSON: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you.
ROBERTS: There's that word again.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. JOHNSON: Oh, we can't get away from it.
Mr. RYAN BOWLING (Spokesman, Mars Snack Food U.S.): The chocolate finger - finger's actually a technical term that's used in confection.
ROBERTS: Ryan Bowling is a spokesman for Mars Snack Food U.S. He says the phrase chocolate finger is an industry term. The Twix, Fling's older brother, might also fall into this category. So perhaps we somewhat misinterpreted the Fling?
Mr. BOWLING: It's not even not that naughty. So you've got to get your mind out of the gutter.
(Soundbite of laughter)