Marketing Horrorshow Coming Soon to a Vagina Near You!

Lisa vs Malibu Stacy3“I want you to hear what Malibu Stacy is telling a generation of little girls.” – Lisa Simpson
“Thinking too much gives you wrinkles.” – Malibu Stacy Doll

Are you female?  Do you like being marketed to by condescending idiots?  If you answered “Yes” to the first question then the people behind Simpsons merchandise couldn’t care less about your answer to the second.  Behold the unironically stereotypical marketing push known as “Ladies of Springfield”.  Fisking time! 

20 years on and The Simpsons is still going strong. We take a look at the Ladies of Springfield licensing drive.

It may be 20 years old, but The Simpsons remains one of the most groundbreaking and innovative entertainment franchises in the world.

“Groundbreaking” in the sense that there’s nothing they won’t merchandise, or “groundbreaking” in the sense that the show has been six feet under for a long time?  I agree with one of those definitions.  This is followed by some “quick facts” which can be summed up as follows, “People still like watching the show.”  Then we get to to the heart of the matter:

With popularity for The Simpsons showing no signs of abating, and a healthy licensing and merchandising programme for the main brand, Fox launched the Ladies of Springfield brand at Brand Licensing Europe in 2008.

I must have missed that presentation at BLE 2008.  Shucks, and I thought I saw everything.

“The initiative was created due to the proven and researched popularity of The Simpsons amongst females of all ages,” explains Jennifer Buchanan, director of European licensing at Fox L&M. “The audience profile of the series shows an almost equal balance of males and females. Fox L&M identified an opportunity to harness the popular appeal of the show and target the female consumer by creating an umbrella brand that brings together the female characters with their own look and feel.”

That translates from Marketspeak roughly as, “Women weren’t buy as much crap as we thought they should so we’re going to cram girly stuff down their throats.  Get me my pink color wheel!” 

A style guide was developed featuring Lisa, Marge and Maggie – as well as the other key female characters such as Patty and Selma – with product launching a year later.

Style guide?  I’m intrigued.  Can I suggest one for the Zombie Simpsons writers?

“Fox has worked closely with licensees to drive the Ladies of Springfield initiative and with their ongoing support we have seen the programme steadily grow across the UK and Europe,” Buchanan continues. “We launched apparel into retail for autumn/winter 2009. This first wave of the brand initiative took us into tween fashion along with support in nightwear. Key retail partners were Bershka, Primark, Bhs, Tesco, George and Next.

This might just be me, but I find the juxtaposition of implicitly martial terminology (“first wave”, “brand initiative”) with “tween fashion” a wee bit telling.  Parents of Europe, we are about to attack your pre-pubescent daughters!  Surrender or be destroyed! 

“Bridging the gap between fashion and sport, a range of female specialist cycling shirts were launched in Evans Cycles.”

“Cycling shirts”, because nothing says “high end specialty fitness” like Patty & Selma.  But it’s about to get so much worse:

The programme will continue to roll out into stationery, soft furnishings and housewares.

Let me consult this copy of “Ladies Home Journal” from 1954.  Yep these are in there.

In 2011, Buchanan says that Fox is aiming to make Marge the ambassador for Mother’s Day – as Homer has become for Father’s Day – as well as driving opportunities for seasonal event POS for Mother’s Day, Valentines and Christmas.

Wait, wait, slow down there.  When did Homer become the “ambassador” for Father’s Day?  For that matter, what the hell does an “ambassador” for a made up holiday do?  Also, I’m pretty sure “POS” in this context is supposed to mean “Points of Sale”.  But it works much better if you use “Pieces of Shit”.  See:

as well as driving opportunities for seasonal event Pieces of Shit for Mother’s Day, Valentines and Christmas.

Not only does that make more sense, but it’s a more accurate description and reads better too. 

The strength of the main character’s personalities, their individual look and imagery are the main drivers of the LOS licensing programme.

They did it again!  This time I’m going with “Lots of Shit” instead of “Ladies of Springfield”. 

Marge, for example, is being positioned as a domestic goddess who keeps the family together, with product being targeted at over 18s. Lisa, meanwhile, is ‘Princess Prodigy” aimed at six to nine year-olds, tween/teens and adults, while Maggie has cute appeal and is aimed at the same demographics as Lisa.

Sadly 1-year-olds cannot make purchasing decisions on their own, so we’re going to target the baby at the same crowd as the 8-year-old.  And “Princess Prodigy”?  That’s an oxymoron.  While I understand the appeal of “princess” style marketing (because it means that your little girl gets to feel important and protected and oh-so-special) it might be useful to point out to her that in real life princesses are inbred dilettantes whose primary role is to serve as a unwilling family brood mare.  Just sayin’. 

Buchanan adds: “Maggie and Lisa both work well on apparel and accessories. Marge is ideal for Mother’s Day opportunities for gift, homewares and social expressions.

Social expressions”?  Like a sign that says “Fuck You And Your Sexist Marketing”? 

In addition, Marge’s recent appearance on the cover of Playboy is not only testament to the brand [it was the first time an animated character has been featured on the front cover], but a big statement for Marge herself. Not only is she a domestic goddess, but she’s a Playboy pin up.

You know what else she is?  A cartoon.  But never mind that, ladies please commence comparing your bodies to a drawing. 

From all accounts we are in the age of the ‘cougar’ and Patty and Selman who “Will Marry for Money” are perfect for humorous product applications to capture this current social trend.”

Okay, “Selman” is probably just a typo.  Even if we set aside the stupidity of the “cougar” as a concept, it’s not exactly Patty & Selma that would spring to mind as examples.  But no fad can go unused, I suppose. 

This year will see the Lots of Shit programme roll out strategically across stationery, bags and homewares, with other categories to follow. International Greetings is due to launch new back to school lines, DNC will have lunch bags and drinkware ranges available from spring, while Character World has developed Maggie duvet sets.

I made one change the quote above.  See if you can spot it.  

Moving on, and Fox L&M is looking to sign new partners in creative play, housewares and gift, as well as developing the healthcare, beauty and jewellery sectors. There will also be a strong focus on Marge for Mother’s Day in 2011.

Now we’re talking.  Let no effeminate product category escape!  Though I must admit I am curious about “creative play”.  Is that like art supplies and card games, or is it more like sex swings and dildos?  And can’t it be both?

“The continued TV support and worldwide recognition of The Simpsons characters is a firm foundation from which to grow the LOS in terms of new product categories, style guides and breadth of appeal and market,” says Buchanan. “Marge, Lisa and Maggie have the potential to be as popular as Homer and Bart, creating a fun male-female brand offering.”

Oh that first sentence is a dagger, “continued TV support”, the true motivation behind Zombie Simpsons.  Though I can’t help but be amused by an ostensibly equality minded goal like “a fun male-female brand offering” being achieved through rapacious exploitation of every conceivable female stereotype this side of a lesbian biker.  

So, where does Buchanan see the Ladies of Springfield in five years time? “Lisa and Maggie will be firmly established as leading girl characters from teens and tweens across key market categories such as toys, electronic, gifting and apparel, while Marge inspired gifting, homewares and greetings ranges will be firm favourites at retail for Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Licensing opportunities for secondary characters Patty, Selma and Edna will also have been developed.”

I don’t find any of the above any more or less offensive than the rest of the crappy merchandise FOX has cranked out over the years.  In the end it’s all just more overpriced landfill fodder and I see no point in worrying about it.  But with the exception of the bizarrely out of place “cycling shirts” every single product or category of products mentioned here is as nakedly sexist as you could make it.  Which is not to say that “housewares” and duvet covers are illegitimate, or even that women are less likely to buy them, only that the exclusion of any other kind of product is as unsurprising as it is lazy. 

It’s all the more tragic when it comes to slapping Lisa’s image on these things since she’s as feminist, scientific and skeptical a character as you could ask for.  Where are the Lisa Simpson beach microscopes?  Or the Lisa Simpson saxophone stuff?  Or the Lisa Simpson hockey pads?  Or the Lisa Simpson line of “I like you as a friend, now please leave me alone” merchandise? 

Lisa Simpson is a globally recognized symbol that could, with just the tiniest bit of creativity, be used to market an enormous number of products that don’t often see branding of this type.  But the FOX licensing people have instead chosen to stagger forward and do the same lame old shit that has always been done.  I didn’t really expect anything different, and the show always had a tense relationship with all the crap that it was used to sell, but this is beyond parody.  Or at least it would be if The Simpsons hadn’t viciously parodied it already sixteen fucking years ago. 

15 Responses to “Marketing Horrorshow Coming Soon to a Vagina Near You!”

  1. 26 January 2010 at 8:44 pm

    I guess with “Lisa vs Malibu Stacy”, Malibu Stacy won. :(

  2. 26 January 2010 at 9:32 pm

    “From all accounts we are in the age of the ‘cougar’ and Patty and Selman who “Will Marry for Money” are perfect for humorous product applications to capture this current social trend.””

    “Okay, “Selman” is probably just a typo.”

    Maybe it’s actually a reference to Zombie Simpsons hack writer Matt Selman.

    BTW, can I just mention here how much I hate the word (if it can be referred to as such) “tween”? And the “From all accounts we are in the age of the ‘cougar'” bit…Jesus Christ. These buzz-word shilling marketing whores are the very assholes that The Simpsons used to make fun of. This whole thing is more disspiriting than the worst Zombie Simpsons episode. Actually, all the vacuous capitalism gone mad here reminds me of that old Bill Hicks routine:

    “By the way, if anyone here is in advertising or marketing… kill yourself. No, no, no, it’s just a little thought. I’m just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they’ll take root – I don’t know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. No really – there’s no rationalisation for what you do, and you are Satan’s little helpers. Okay – kill yourself. Seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No, this is not a joke, you’re going, “There’s going to be a joke coming.” There’s no fucking joke coming. You are Satan’s spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It’s the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, “He’s doing a joke…” There’s no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a friend – I don’t care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations…I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, “Oh, you know what Bill’s doing, he’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a good market, he’s very smart.” Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! “Ooh, you know what Bill’s doing now, he’s going for the righteous indignation dollar. That’s a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We’ve done research – huge market. He’s doing a good thing.” Godammit, I’m not doing that, you scumbags! Quit putting a godammn dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet! “Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill’s very bright to do that.” God, I’m just caught in a fucking web. “Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market – look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar…”

    • 4 Charlie Sweatpants
      27 January 2010 at 11:21 am

    • 6 Lovejoy fan
      27 January 2010 at 1:04 pm

      Thank God, another person who hates the word “tween”. I detest that word; I find it extremely annoying for some reason, probably due to the way it sounds and the fact that, as you said, it’s used by the people this show used to make fun of.

  3. 26 January 2010 at 11:42 pm

    “These buzz-word shilling marketing whores are the very assholes that The Simpsons used to make fun of. ”

    I thought Matt Selman was a writer. :P

  4. 8 Celia
    27 January 2010 at 10:40 am

    When did Homer become the “ambassador” for Father’s Day?

    I’m not sure myself how being featured on various ties/socks/cufflinks/beer-related novelty items constitutes being an ambassador. I wonder what Marge will be on. Tea-towels, I suppose, or delicate pink mugs for ladies (as opposed to the butch “Spiderpig” mugs I’ve seen around). Anyway, I agree that the Lisa stuff being apparently proposed seems rather like generic stuff for girls with Lisa’s face on it, rather than a consideration of why people might like Lisa in the first place.

    From all accounts we are in the age of the ‘cougar’

    Is that like the age of Aquarius? Anyway, would they market items to the “randy old stag” market with, I don’t know, Mayor Quimby or Disco Stu on? Apparently not – this definition of “cougar” given isn’t even about sex, but about marriage. Women are defined by their relationships to men, men actually do stuff. Apparently. I mean, they could have used Patty to market to the untapped “lesbian biker” group, but no. Much too interesting, I expect – which seems to be the problem with the show over a wide area these days, in my opinion.

  5. 9 Lovejoy fan
    27 January 2010 at 1:01 pm

    Actually, I remember Lisa being marketed to young girls not too long ago. She had a DS Lite case based on her, among other things (it was pink and had “girl power” on it). Someone even gave me a journal with her picture on the cover (this time with “smart girls are cool”). Sadly, this is all, as you said, the same old shit we’ve seen before; just with Lisa’s face instead of Bart’s and a colour change.

    I’ve never heard of this “Ladies of Springfield” stuff until now, and I’m not really interested at all. Just another generic Simpsons brand, like everything else out there.

    (Oh, and that “under-appreciated” picture from the article could easily apply to some other characters, but I’m not going to go there.

  6. 10 Lovejoy fan
    27 January 2010 at 1:10 pm

    Sorry for commenting twice, but I had to look this stuff up (morbid curiosity) and it’s awfully generic.

    • 11 Celia
      27 January 2010 at 2:18 pm

      That site has a banner at the top featuring what are apparently slogans from the “Ladies of Springfield” line. One of them does indeed show Patty and Selma as “cougars on the prowl”. Did the people in charge of saying “yes” to this stuff forget that Patty was outed a few years back, to much fanfare and publicity? Because it’s not necessarily so just from that one image, but I do wonder.

      Also, Lisa is on a Frisbee and ping-pong bats. On the ping-pong bats she is pictured surfing, and it says “surf’s up!” underneath. Has she surfed in the show, because I don’t think so.

      • 12 Lovejoy fan
        27 January 2010 at 4:16 pm

        Either they forgot about Patty’s sexual preference or they’re ignoring it for the sake of marketing. I can’t tell which one.

        Those pictures of Lisa surfing are exactly what I meant earlier. Bart’s been pictured surfing on so much merchandise, over here in the UK at least, yet I don’t remember him surfing on the show (correct me if I’m wrong). I don’t think Lisa has ever surfed on the show – and what about those “hula lessons” she’s having on the frisbee (and why is that on a frisbee anyway?)? And let’s not get started on those Maggie sandles. This whole thing is basically a marketing team taking popular characters and attempting to make them look appealing to a certain demographic, without considering whether or not it fits the character. It’s EXACTLY what they did with Bart when they tried to make him into some kind of skating/snowboarding “cool dude”.

        I’m female myself, and this does not appeal to me at all. Simpsons merchandise didn’t need to be cute and girly to appeal to me; the Simpsons stuff I have bought (which isn’t much, mostly because of how insanely stupid most of it is) features characters I like. It’s mostly books and a few action figures, because when it comes to merchandise, that’s as far as I go. I can’t speak for my whole gender here, but I highly doubt the female Simpsons fanbase actually needs cookware and jewellery with Marge on them. As for Lisa… well, she’s my favourite character, and I actually liked the way she was marketed earlier a lot more than the way she is now. “Smart girls are cool” made a nice change from this “princess” trend that was constantly pointed in the direction of little girls… oh, and now Lisa’s part of that as well. How depressing. The only thing about this that’s even slightly interesting (to me, at least), is the mention of Mrs Krabappel. I am rather curious about how they’d handle that, so help me. Would I buy it? Probably not, but at least it’s not the same generic pictures they use for all their merchandise so it’d be interesting to see, at least.

        Sorry for that big rant I had there.

      • 13 Charlie Sweatpants
        27 January 2010 at 4:31 pm

        I’ll see your “Surf’s Up” Lisa and raise you Maggie as a “binky junkie”. What, nothing rhymed with pacifier? I don’t think the problem is that the people in charge of saying “yes” forgot anything (though I doubt they’d care if they knew) so much as it is the absence of anyone in charge of saying “no”. Hell, she’s shown more affection for a mallet and a power drill than she has for a security blanket.

        I was going to make fun of them for designing products that have little to nothing to do with the characters, but then I realized they did it on purpose. Marge, Lisa and Maggie are instantly recognizable even to people who don’t watch the show, so why limit the appeal to people who actually know the characters? Half of this stuff is going to be bought as gifts by parents and grandparents and your Great Aunt Mildred who knows that you like the “Simpies” and saw this Lisa t-shirt in the bargain bin.

        Bill Hicks was on to something.

        • 14 Lovejoy fan
          27 January 2010 at 5:07 pm

          The sad thing is, you’re right. That is exactly what is going to happen.

          Over the years, I have recieved countless junk from various friends and relatives who remember that I like the show. The only ones that have ever actually been any use are the aforementioned journal (because I like writing), and some puzzles. Most of it usually gets passed on to someone else, because most of this stuff just doesn’t appeal to me. The only stuff I’ve ever bought myself are books, action figures and anything with the Lovejoys on it (which barely exists, so I haven’t gone within ten feet of most of the merchandise). But still, all this gender-stereotyping is unnecessary. The only difference between this stuff and all the other merchandise out there is that no one’s going to by it for their boyfriends/husbands/sons. All the stuff given to me as gifts have all been the same yellow and red, Bart and Homer things that are supposedly for “men” and it’s never bothered me. I don’t see why they need to make a whole new line of merchandise just to cater to a female audience.

          Dear Lord, I forgot about “binky junkie” Maggie. I don’t know if that’s supposed to sound cute or something, but it doesn’t. Not to me, anyway.

          Oh, and I’ve already covered this, but this bothers me a little bit; where’s Lisa’s saxophone? Back in the earlier years (i.e before the show existed solely to sell merchandise), there was a lot of stuff featuring Lisa playing her saxophone. Why doesn’t she do that anymore? Wasn’t it girly enough or something?

        • 27 January 2010 at 5:16 pm

          Lovejoy fan: “This whole thing is basically a marketing team taking popular characters and attempting to make them look appealing to a certain demographic, without considering whether or not it fits the character. It’s EXACTLY what they did with Bart when they tried to make him into some kind of skating/snowboarding “cool dude”.”

          It’s also what happened to the classic Looney Tunes characters – back in the 1990s (and maybe even today, for all I know), Warner Brothers peddled clothing and other items of merchandise featuring the characters dressed up and posing like gangster rappers. There was something Poochie-like about that.

          Charlie: “Bill Hicks was on to something.”

          He was also a fan of The Simpsons (I know he mentioned the Flanders family in one of his routines), and the fact that he died in early 1994 means he never got to see the show turn into crap.

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