Do you remember “New Coke”?
In 1985, the Coca Cola Company replaced its original formula for Coke with “New Coke” for a mere 79 days — a marketing disaster that precipitated an abrupt return to the status quo. It’s a well-known example of an “oops, my bad” moment in product marketing.
GoldieBlox’s recent reversal on their Beastie Boys parody advertisement is another example of an “oops” moment, except that this time, it’s imbued with gender stereotypes.
Two weeks ago, GoldieBlox, the maker of a supposedly gender equalizing toy, advertised its product with a parody of the Beastie Boys’ “Girls.” Initially, I was pleased to see GoldieBlox repurpose the Beastie Boys’ misogynistic song into a girls’ empowerment anthem. As Max from Litigation and Trial (an ABA Journal top 100 “Blawg”) discussed in GoldieBlox’s Parody of the Beastie Boys is Probably Fair Use:
It was  deeply satisfying to see GoldieBlox, the makers of a science-based toy for girls (one that I pre-ordered for my girls and received as a gift from my mother), repurpose the song as a girls-empowerment theme, changing lines like “Girls, to do the dishes / Girls, to clean up my room” into “Girls, to build the spaceship; Girls, to code the new app.” They then posted it online, and it promptly went viral, shared widely by the many people who hated the original “Girls.”
Some claim that the Beastie Boys’ song is itself a parody of rap, but I see that as nothing more than conscientious people trying to defend their taste in bad music. The entire album is full of offensive messages (for which Adam Yauch later apologized). Besides, even if “Girls” is a parody, I don’t think it’s generally interpreted that way. So, I welcomed the GoldieBlox version.
We own the GoldieBlox construction toy (see the image above), but my daughters don’t play with it. Why not? Because they play with regular legos, blocks, and Lincoln Logs. Girls don’t need separate toys made just for them. They should be playing with the same toys boys play with (and vice versa). That said, I respected what I believed was GoldieBlox’s female empowerment message, and I felt that their parody and the subsequent lawsuit they filed against the Beastie Boys furthered this message.
On November 21, 2013, after the Beastie Boys questioned GoldieBlox’s commercial use of the “Girls” parody (without having paid any licensing fees), GoldieBlox filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of California seeking a declaratory judgment that their parody was fair use. Filing preemptively is an aggressive move, but it’s not unusual, and it felt empowering to those of us who have hated the Beastie Boys’ misogynistic song for more than two decades. According to U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, Inc., 510 U.S. 569, 579 (1994), the GoldieBlox parody likely falls into the fair use exception to copyright infringement. As Max explains:
Truth is, Campbell alone resolves the issue raised by The Beastie Boys, i.e. that the use is objectionable because, regardless of how empowering and affirming it may be, it’s nonetheless commercial. Campbell says that commercial intent alone isn’t enough to preclude an infringing work from being protected as a parody.
It was a worthy battle for GoldieBlox to wage, and those of us who want broader fair use protections were cheering for them.
The Ditzy “Apology”
Then, on November 27, 2013, GoldieBlox took the video down and issued an “apology” to the Beastie Boys. They wrote (cue the giggle, high-pitched voice, and hair twirling): “We don’t want to fight with you. We love you and we are actually huge fans… And we want to be your friends.”
I can see how GoldieBlox, despite knowingly instigating this dispute, may have subsequently felt that it was unseemly for a toymaker to take such aggressive action. After all, we do teach our children to avoid fights. However, when I tell my daughters to refrain from fighting, I’m talking about physical fights and unfounded arguments, not legally meritorious claims challenging mainstream misogyny.
The message, then, of GoldieBlox’s reversal is: Oops. We don’t fight. We’re just girls. The juvenile, ditzy tone made me wonder whether the writer of that pathetic letter was a mechanical engineer (as GoldieBlox’s founder claims to be) or Malibu Barbie.
GoldieBlox’s change of heart in a week’s time exposes that either (1) female empowerment is nothing more than a marketing ploy, or (2) GoldieBlox is run by a bunch of irrational, silly people. The latter is a stereotype often associated with girls, one that reminds me of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s classic short story, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892), in which a woman diagnosed with hysteria (a condition thought at the time to be related to female biology) is placed on a bed rest “cure” that drives her mad. It is a story about the patriarchal isolation and silencing of women, which came to mind when I saw a tweet from Max about GoldieBlox’s message: “if boys don’t like something girls did, girls should back down, bat their eyelashes, and give up.”
In the end, the GoldieBlox reversal imparts three lessons for those of us who were duped into supporting this unprincipled toy company:
- (1) Women are irrational and can’t be trusted to think things through (even when they seek legal counsel);
- (2) Even the purest form of parody isn’t worth defending (even with an on point Supreme Court case); and
- (3) The song “Girls” is rightly a classic with a message entitled to deference and respect.
Quite frankly, after this many missteps, I wouldn’t be too surprised if GoldieBlox’s next blog post blames the entire debacle on menstrual cramps.
PS. For all of those people hyped up gender differences after seeing the articles on male brains versus female brains, see A Quick Moan About Male and Female Brains: “We cannot talk about ‘hardwired’ differences between female and male brains without understanding the genetic factors, the environmental factors and the interactions and feedbacks between them.”