Why are South African retailers making families so angry?

By Angelique Ruzicka, editor, Moneybags

Do South African retailers even get us (especially those with families) at all? I ask this as another major retailer, Truworths, shares the spotlight on social media platforms Twitter and Facebook after an irate customer, Lauren Kreuger, posted comments about its in-store Mother’s Day campaign imaging which features a young, slim looking model in lingerie looking sexily into the camera.

According to an article on Women24, Kreuger laments: “Truworths … How can this be your Mother’s Day campaign!?! Firstly she’s about 17. Secondly, why is she being sexualised? What does a teenager in her bra possibly have to do with Mother’s Day? Heaven forbid we mothers actually looked older than 20. Heaven forbid we have a less than perfect stomach. When I’m looking after my toddlers I basically just swan around in my fancy undies too.”

Kreuger may have a point here. The model, if she is a mother, has to part with her secret on how she got that flat stomach without the stretch marks because seven months after having child number two I’m still trying to find new and ingenious ways of sucking in my left over ‘kangaroo pouch’ and getting rid of the lines that are on it too. But the truth of the matter is that there probably is no secret – because her age (she’s apparently in her 20s) and Photoshop is on her side!

Truworths is not the only retailer that has garnered the ire of its customers. Last month, Pick n Pay issued an apology after a grandmother and grandson were allegedly harassed by in-store security staff and management after her grandson broke a chocolate. A photo of the distraught woman and grandson sitting on the floor of the supermarket were posted on Pick n Pay’s Facebook page.

Earlier this year, Edgars was forced to issue an apology too after staff asked mother Tasneem Botha to leave a Cavendish store for changing her five week old baby’s diaper and then wanting to breastfeed in the store. This incident also caused a social media furore, which was followed by a peaceful sit-in by a number of Cape Town moms who breastfed their babies in the Cape Town store.

Last year, Woolworths was slated for its poor choice in children’s clothing. A mother of two sparked a social media frenzy after she made a post suggesting that the retailer perpetuated certain stereotypes by having individual sections for boys and girls and not having enough of range to choose from. She also criticised Woolworths for mostly selling merchandise that promoted Disney characters. “She [her toddler] isn’t invested in Hello Kitty, Barbie or Sophia the First – and I’d like to keep it that way. So could you please stock some options that don’t include merchandising from Disney?!”

Is venting on social media the answer?

One person on Twitter said smugly: “While arrogant, they [Truworths] have a point. Vote with your wallet if you disagree with their campaign. Really? Has spending money elsewhere ever made a major retailer change its advertising campaign?”

While everyone and their aunt appears to be turning to social media to vent about things they are offended about the reason why they do it is because it makes the ‘big guns’ sit up and take notice. Words hurt and if an injustice is flagged on social media, people take note. Whether you are serving food to a #RhodesMustFall customer or a racist venting about Sports Minister Fikile Mblalula’s sports transformation: if you talk about it on social media and use the right hashtags you are bound to get noticed.

But should you vent your anger about everything you are offended about? Was Kreuger right to criticise Truworths when, let’s face it, the retailer is hardly the first to sexualise mothers?

Some have come to the Truworths’ defence. “Seriously??? So truworths must rather use fat old women in their marketing? Get real people. And maybe try loose (sic) some weight,” said one person on social media. And “Ppl just wanna (sic) manufacture a social media outrage campaign for anything these days,” tweeted another.

Truworths told Moneybags:

“We have received both compliments and criticism for the campaign, and feel that all customers have a right to their own opinion on our campaigns.  It is a reality that many of our lingerie and sleepwear items are given as gifts on Mother’s Day. Our intention is never to offend anyone, but rather to present fashionable and aspirational product which is then supported by appropriate marketing to our customers. We are firmly of the view that mothers should feel youthful and attractive if they wish to do so and our role is to provide them with the fashion, cosmetics and fragrances to support their intention to do so. We will of course take into account the social media comments when we next run a similar campaign.”

I certainly hope we’ll be getting tit for tat, because I’m looking forward to that 25 year old DILF in boxers looking sexily into the camera for their Father’s Day campaign. Or rather, I should just shut my mouth and take that left over kangaroo pouch to the gym and start working on those abs.

Why do we, after all these years of marketing, photoshopping and glamour magazines suddenly take offence to one 20-something girl posing in lingerie for a Mother’s Day campaign? Is it because we feel insecure? Is it because in our hearts most of us moms know we don’t stand a chance of ever looking that young and fit again?

Or do we now have the right to use social media to say: “Enough!” Truworths also told us that the model is 25 but refused to reveal whether she was in fact a mother. Why the secrecy? Perhaps retailers should start to understand us. To understand that sometimes toddlers throw tantrums and break things that we won’t buy them in the store, that our daughters don’t all want to wear pink Disney emblazoned outfits, that moms don’t want to breastfeed our babies in the mall’s toilets and that all most moms want to do is find clothes that fit us rather than be reminded about how we’ll never have a flat 20-something looking stomach again.