As I have written elsewhere, about 8% of all venture capital investment goes to companies led by women and fewer than 15% of all venture capitalists are of the female persuasion, despite women comprising approximately 37.5% of all MBA students (not the only route to venture capital and/or the CEO’s chair, but at least a partial correlate). As of one year ago, only 25 of the Fortune 1000 companies had a woman CEO, yet women make up about 50% of America’s labor force. Women also held only 11% of Fortune 1000 company Board of Director seats in 2009; 25% of Fortune 1000 companies have no women board members.
So the point is: women have some real challenges in reaching parity with their male counterparts in the executive suite. Yeah, yeah, heard it all before.
But a friend of mine who knows I am interested in such things sent me a New York Times article that pointed out yet another example of the lack of parity that women can experience, and this one is, shall we say, even more personal. The article, linked here, discusses how a venture-backed company called Semprae Laboratories, could get virtually no one in the media world—TV, radio or social media—to air a professionally produced advertisement for their lead product, Zestra, a women’s aphrodisiac. In a world where Cialis and Viagra commercials are everywhere except on the Disney Channel (they had a former U.S. Senator and Vice Presidential candidate flacking for them for God’s sake), and where I recently cringed while I sat next to my young daughter as we watched a prime time ad for vibrating condoms (seriously), it is hard to believe that a legitimate product focused at women’s sexual health can’t get no satisfaction.
The product, according to Semprae’s website, is “a safe, natural, easy-to-apply blend of botanical oils and extracts that works by heightening a woman’s sense of touch.” According to the website, “Zestra has been documented to improve women’s feelings of desire, arousal and sexual satisfaction”. Lots of reputable people are quoted on the website about the legitimacy of the product. Dr. Oz has featured the product on his show and even Rachael Ray has reported that Zestra sets her pilot light aflame.
And yet the company’s executives report that they shopped their ad around to about 100 TV stations and that, with the exception of Soapnet Women’s Entertainment (who?) and Discovery Health, many either refused or placed certain parameters on the ads (like they had to be aired during hours when only vampires walk the earth). Both WebMD and even Facebook rejected the ad, the latter reporting they do not allow “advertisements that contain or promote adult content” including “sexual terms and/or images.” Have the people at Facebook seen the average high school student’s Facebook page?
In what is a particularly entertaining form of irony, the executives at Semprae Laboratories have started a Facebook group to encourage fans to discourage double-standards in advertising.
I have to tell you, I watched this ad and it made me a lot less nauseous than those 4-hour erection-a-thon discussions that you see on the average Levitra or Cialis commercial, where couples practically bound to the bedroom having found the fountain of youth (who knew it was at CVS?!). The Zestra ad is downright tame, to tell you the truth. No suggestive clothing, no writhing young women. Just your average, everyday middle-aged ladies talking about what comes naturally, and in very muted tones at that.
I find it incredibly lame that men’s sexual health products can be seen after every Super Bowl touchdown (and the kicker split the uprights…and speaking of upright!}, but women’s sexual health products are too hot to handle. I mean, seriously, how are those Viagra-taking, vibrating condom-wearing guys going to get the full return on investment if the more than 33% of women who could probably benefit from a Zestra-like product can’t even learn about it?
At least these Zestra people have clinical trials to back up their claims. What has Smiling Bob of the Enzyte natural male enhancement commercials got to show for himself? Ewww, not that. I mean data. Before those commercials came off the air (due to the company’s bankruptcy and the company CEO’s 25-year prison sentence), it was all show and no go on the science front. Despite that, I got to experience that idiot Bob and his whistling theme song every time I watched Jon Stewart on Comedy Central. The Zestra executives couldn’t even get Lifetime, the chick channel, to feature their ad.
This whole thing reminds me of the historical lack of parity for women in health-related clinical research. It wasn’t until 1993 that the FDA began requiring companies to include women in appropriate numbers in pharmaceutical clinical trials.
What’s a girl gotta do to catch a break? Representing more than 50% of the U.S population and wielding tight-fisted control of the majority of household spending, it’s time for women to rise up (no Viagra pun intended) and demand equality in the healthcare realm in all areas, even those that might carry a PG-13 rating. Good luck in your quest, Semprae executives, to bring marketing parity to the majority.