Rosie in the News: Swiffer Edition

Uh oh, Swiffer is getting some social media flak for choosing the parody the Rosie the Riveter image for a campaign for their Steam Boost product. Here’s the image:


Sigh. Look, we’ve been through this before, right? Advertising is the way it is because people respond to it. No company the size of Swiffer launches a new campaign without focus group approval. So the question is not why does Swiffer butcher historical imagery in service of sexist divisions of housework. The answer to that one is easy (because focus groups said it would work…). The more interesting question is, why does it work so well? 

Having not sat on the other side of this particular one-way mirror and not being a homeowning 35-48 year-old mother of 2.3 children myself, I can only guess. To many of us, the Rosie image resonates because it symbolizes a defining moment in women’s history when work outside the home became significantly more accessible. It’s historically significant, and reminds of us of the complicated intersection of propaganda and progress.

But it’s not just that to everyone. It’s meaning has been boiled down (by advertising and pop culture) to a simple message of female strength and capability. It says “I get shit done” and “I don’t need help,” and “I am competent.” In that sense, it’s easy to see why women whose sphere of responsibility is their home would be attracted to an image that projects that confidence. They don’t care that, as one twitter commenter wrote, it “pisses on the legacy” of the original image.

Those were the women in the focus group. Not us. Do you buy things with “steam boost” in the title? Yeah, me neither.

Related Post: Rosie in the News: Alfred Palmer edition

Related Post: Rosie in the News: Rivets and Rosebuds



Filed under Advertising, Gender, Media

3 responses to “Rosie in the News: Swiffer Edition

  1. Larissa Lee

    I’ll add that familiarity plays a large role in marketing. You go with the societal quirks and viral messages (when they aren’t violent or inappropriate). Thanks to the internet, Rosie the Riveter is a familiar face; honestly, I didn’t personally know where her image came from. She was just everywhere one day, all over Facebook and Failblog. If I were in a focus group, I’d find the clumsy Swiffer ad amusing and familiar; they might take that to mean the ad will work. Just a thought.

  2. Emily S.

    I’d also guess that Swiffer sees themselves as being EMPOWERING to women (technically men, too, but that’s a different argument), because it’s a product women can use when they just want to get shit clean quickly after work and before bed–because Swiffer is easy and fast and better than a mop. So in their minds, Swiffer stands on the side of women getting shit done quickly and moving on with their lives, not on the side of women slaving away.

    The problem is, people don’t study Swiffer’s brand strategy to know that. They don’t care beyond Swiffer = cleaning your home. I’m not saying it was a good choice of imagery. It was kind of lazy to use her, and someone SOMEWHERE should have thought “The original Rosie stands for women working outside the home, maybe this isn’t a good idea.” And that’s on them.

  3. Heads up: For some reason this post didn’t show up in WP reader. I only discovered it when I went directly to your blog to alert you to the ad… and you had already posted on it! Look into it… and take care.

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