Just keep your Secret, okay?

Secret – some brand of antiperspirant that’s claimed for years to be “ph balanced for women” – has launched a new ad campaign in which women share their secrets. The website [since removed] claims:

Look into the souls of strong women, whose candid secrets reflect their character – flaws, frailties, intelligence, nerve and wit.

Curiously, almost all the “secrets” that come up at first on the scroll – and on the commercials I’ve seen on TV so far – are about men. “I kissed your boyfriend”, “I tell everyone I don’t need a man but I really want to be in love” and “I’m still in love with my ex-boyfriend” are among the first few. Hmm. My personal experience as a strong woman involves not kissing other women’s boyfriends, being truthful when I say I don’t need a man, and knowing whether or not I want to be with somebody. Somehow I get the feeling Secret’s not looking for a woman who’s strong enough not to hide behind secrets. This is a titillation campaign, pure and simple.

On an amusing note, if you continue to watch the scroll, eventually you see things like, “I’m 39 male and I only like the oldies”. I guess there’s a web form, and anyone can fill out what they want, and it’s not exactly being screened carefully.

Whatever. This ad campaign seems to subscribe to the same philosophy as the Burger King and Miller Lite ones: make fun of your customers, thereby weeding out the discriminating ones who might notice your product sucks, and keeping in the insecure ones who’ll believe any crap you tell them.


  1. Mecha says

    While I looked over a bunch of them and the ads didn’t seem like they were particularly male-focused, or ‘stupidity’ focused, the concept brings me to a question that I think sorta needs to be answered, given your criticisms. And that question is whether the campaign has any sort of validity in the abstract? Or, put another way.

    What sort of secrets does a ‘strong woman’ have?

    First, we look at the list of submitted secrets, from the oldest on. ‘I have a tattoo nobody knows about’ ‘I’m a CEO and I hate my job.’ ‘I feel guitly kissing other boys even though my boyfriend and I broke up weeks ago.’ ‘I love my pet bird.’ ‘I have never been infatuated with my husband.’ And a whole bunch of others. Are we, or anyone, going to classify the women who have these ‘secrets’ as strong or weak based upon them?

    Looking at your direct criticisms of specific lines (out of many), if strong women aren’t allowed to have feelings (especially about men)… aren’t allowed to have doubts (especially about their feelings towards men)… is it just having a feeling that happens to involve a man what makes a woman suddenly weak? Or would any word choice make a woman weak? Is it simply because the secrets you saw conform to the bad stereotypes? Because there’s a lot of stuff on that site which is very not. As well as a lot of stuff that is.

    Ultimately, one sorta wonders, ‘Can a strong woman have a personal secret, or are secrets the domain of children and weaklings?’ As well as that, I am curious as to whether you have an idea or example of a secret that indicates a strong woman. (The conspiracy theorist in me thinks of a ‘secret’ that, if revealed, would cause massive damage to people. But that isn’t really the subject of this campaign, is it?) (The other side of me says that a secret could be a secret in the sense of a ‘secret to how to live life’. But that is also not quite the subject of the campaign.) And that is where I sorta end up. I think the answers to that are really sorta important as to the analysis of the campaign. It’s a pretty meaningless message if it is inherently flawed to promote strong women as having secrets at all.

    The three ads I assume go on TV are ‘I bribed my brother to take you to the prom’ ‘Dad took me to get a tattoo’ ‘I kissed your brother.’ My computer, as usual, doesn’t let me watch them through. Are these things strong women would never do?

    That said. The concept of a secret is inherently ‘taboo’ or ‘risque’ because secrets are, well, secret. A personal secret is kept secret because, usually, of fear of the consequences, or perhaps simply knowing the consequences and not wanting to deal with them. So the ads do have an innate possibility of going for titilation. But they also run the exact same type of idea as a support group. The site actually has sort of a reality TV show ‘confessional’ setup, so take that how you will, I suppose.

    The site reminds me of grouphug.us, if I’m remembering the site right, where people could post anonymous statements, secrets, confessions, etc. It was a very creepy and scary and human condition examining place to read through, at times. Is that the kind of reality this hopes for? Some sort of picture of the female condition, wiki-style? I don’t know.



  2. scarlett says

    I got the feeling Beta had a problem with the most obvious secrets being lame, stereotyped ones about wanting men and kissing other women’s boyfriends. These all seem like fairly stereotyped things. Why not something that could easily apply to both genderslike ‘my flashy lifestyle is bought on credit cards and I’m deeply in debt’ which could quite easily apply to anyone?

  3. Mecha says

    Well, that’s part of the free posting, is the issue (and why I brought up grouphug.us.) It’s not like the company is saying tell us about your boyfriends, unless the ads specifically make that. And having managed to get all the ads out, two of them do talk about guys, and one doesn’t, and one of thems’ last message is ‘strongest thing you can do is tell the truth.’ Do the three ads and the website from the campaign designers support ‘tell us about your boyfriends! We want hot stories!’ Then that would be something.

    Now, on the ugly contrary, if the majority of women that go to the site think secrets should all be about boyfriends, or that’s all they have… that has a different message, which is not the campaign’s point per se. Of course, not all of the messages are stereotypical, so I’m not sure how to analyze that, even though a bunch are.

    And the general question exists: Are secrets at cross-purposes with being strong? And if they really think _telling_ secrets is the important thing, to be strong, are they phrasing that properly? I think those are more… pointed questions.


  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    I never said a strong woman can’t express those sentiments. The “I kissed your boyfriend” ad it the one I keep seeing on the TV commercials, which means it’s getting more air time than others. Meta-message? Strong women betray other women for the sake of men. I mean, are they aiming for the female cheater market, or what? Maybe cheaters need more anti-perspirant to cope with all those “almost got caught!” moments. 😀

    I would argue that by nature, a woman who fools around with another woman’s fella is not strong. I resent the commercial implying that this is strong woman behavior.

  5. Mecha says

    Okay, that I get. But the other 4 commercials I’ve seen don’t involve that at all. (The three on the website and only one I’ve seen on air last night was about two women, one of which wanted to be pregnant, and the other who was 4 months pregnant.) The ‘kiss’ one on the website is apparently high in implication, but it is supposedly that they kissed eachother’s brothers from the text on the site? I should have watched the behind the scenes part more fully when I could. Sigh. Tonight, I suppose. ^^;


  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Well, pregnancy involves men, last I heard. I guess I’m just strange for not defining my entire existence in terms of how it relates to men. 😉 Do you think a similar campaign for men would involve secrets that mostly relate to women? Or would it be the shocking truth about how they got that Porsche and how much they hate their (male) boss?

    And here’s another point. I don’t see any secrets in there about surviving rape (by a man), about being passed over for promotions because you did/didn’t sleep with the (male) boss, or about getting post-pardum so bad you wanted to kill your kids (and the hubby nowhere in sight to change a diaper). So clearly, there are certain things Secret is screening out, so as to provide a nice sanitized version of things that doesn’t piss off that mean old patriarchy too much.

  7. sbg says

    What they’re showing aren’t secrets, they’re trivia. No one wants to know the real secrets, silly. That’s too deep and wouldn’t effectively sell the product. 😉

  8. Jennifer Kesler says

    And if they really think _telling_ secrets is the important thing, to be strong, are they phrasing that properly? I think those are more… pointed questions.

    I don’t know what they think, but in terms of shame secrets, here’s how I see it:

    Strong: not doing shameful things in the first place, duh

    Fairly strong: making mistakes and accepting the consequences and making amends

    Weak: doing shameful things and covering your ass

  9. Mecha says

    I think going ‘Pregnancy involves men’ as an objection to it being in the add is a bit too far, and as you said, you don’t define yourself in terms of how it relates to men. Maybe other people don’t either, and a discussion between the two women is a ‘them’ thing, not a ‘there’s a guy involved’ thing?

    I think a similar campaign involving men would involve just as much trivia (as sbg calls it). And would probably have a lot of stories about women in it. For good or bad. Probably no small amount of bad.

    Now, that last point is part of what I was asking in the big long rambly post. Is it Secret that’s screening it out, or are there not a lot of women submitting that? Why not try an experiment and make a post, see if they screen it? (They’re also donating small amounts of money to a charity for each secret posted.)

    Now. To look at all of http://www.secret.com/share/secrets.asp?id=18711&pg=3
    http://www.secret.com/share/secrets.asp?id=12836&pg= and most importantly (seriously, if you didn’t want to click the last bunch, click this one) http://www.secret.com/share/secrets.asp?id=8994&pg=
    one would not think they are explicitly screening, uh, everything. As I said above. Just because someone is not saying something, does that mean that they’re being censored by someon else? Or themselves? And is Secret reinforcing this by their campaign? Or is it just because of general societal or personal pressure?

    I hope I can see this one that’s apparently about stealing boyfriends, so I can see that, but where’s the other reinforcement? Where is Secret going, ‘It’s all about men! Not women!’ The largest example I have is that two of the ads specifically talk about relationships with men (the ‘bribed my brother to take you to the prom and he ended up your husband’ and the ‘we kissed eachothers’ brothers’ one, which barely mentions men at all, and talks about the women more pointedly.) I see how this comes close to the criteria about ‘not watching something unless it involves two women not talking about men’ but… well, it does have women talking about not men.


  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    Why not try an experiment and make a post, see if they screen it?

    Why don’t you? You’re the one arguing that it’s not Secret’s fault they chose certain stories to make into TV ads and not others.

    I think we’re just going to have to agree to disagree, because I’m not even sure I know what you’re arguing about anymore. I don’t see sharing trivia as indicative of strenth, and as a strong woman who takes a lot of flak for NOT giving socially acceptable sanitized responses to questions instead of the truth, I take offense.

    And yeah, the vast majority of stories I’m seeing here involve men somehow. I think it’s invisible to you because it’s so normal to feel The Man lurking in the background with every thought expressed by women, and you don’t realize what a comparitively small amount of thought is devoted to women – by EITHER gender. Everyone needs the goodwill of men at all times to get through life. The goodwill of women is only needed when you’re a child, or when you’re a horny straight man. The fact that some individuals have chosen to seek female goodwill does not mitigate the fact that there’s no social incentive to do so – nor repercussions for not bothering.

  11. Mecha says

    I suppose I don’t submit any stories like those because I don’t feel like lying, although when I get home I plan on submitting something to the site, even though I can’t submit anything as a woman, let alone a strong one. If you don’t have a story along those lines that you can share, well, okay, I wouldn’t expect you to lie either. However, if you, a strong woman, does not have anything to put up there, that does sorta lend a point of evidence to the possible conclusion that the campaign is flawed, not by intent, but by design, which was one of the things I was trying to ask: Can strong women actually work with this campaign? Are strong women going to submit responses? Would they feel any need to? And if not, does that make Secret insulting, or just misguided?

    I am trying to examine the concept of whether the campaign, as stated, is actually positive or negative towards women. This requires examining whether the campaign is actually saying something negative. If it were saying ‘all important secrets involve men, and having nothing to do with women’, then that would be negative. Is that the message you get from… a girl getting a secret tattoo because her dad happens to be involved or one woman wanting to be pregnant and another being pregnant? Because while there are two that specifically deal with male-female relationships (which some people do consider important) there are two that specifically… well, don’t. And none of them are particularly negative or weak secrets. So the main TV ad campaign does not seem particularly bad just because 50% of the women portrayed happen to involve men in their lives and relationsihps. Would it be better and clearer if there were none? Possibly. It is likely we wouldn’t be having this discussion about the ads. Maybe you think the fact that the daughter has a ‘dad’ in her life that happened to take her to the tattoo, or the fact that men are involved in pregnancy, make those stories about men. I don’t. Any more than I would say that Buffy is ‘about men’, or Xena is ‘about men’ just because men are involved. Perhaps that is where we have to agree to disagree.

    Secondarily, examining the site for evidence that they don’t want good secret submissions, which you sorta asserted in your original post. Your idea of looking for things that are anti-patriarchy was a good one if someone was trying to determine whether it’s an attempt to be socionormative, and that is what I tried to point out, in large numbers, including one rape story. The question there is: Is there some sort of censorship? You said that because you didn’t see any of those stories, there is. There is only one rape story, and none of those others are there. That is indicitive of either 1) Secret trying to keep a lid on anything that might go against the norm or 2) Women on the internet choosing not to share a whole bunch of secrets/trivia/stories/emotion-of-the-moment blurbs that involve those things. Your assumption in the original post that Secret is out to deride their audience lies right along this point, and yet… the preeminent examples of people being asked to post random things about themselves (on LJ, grouphug.us, etc) exhibits exactly the same sort of behavior that we’re seeing on the Secret site. A lot of trivia, and some heartfelt real secret stuff. And as example, you don’t feel like you need to post. If you’re typical of strong women (and I’m not trying to make a judgement here, just picking an example) then, again, is it Secret’s fault? Did they know that no strong woman would post, and so they’re really just trying to coax out as many ‘cheat on my hubby’ stories as possible? If so, not only are they excellent judges of human nature, but they are being very disingenuous and deserving of scorn. I tend to believe 2. Because I have seen 2 everywhere on the internet. It’s the simplest explaination, to me.

    That’s what I’m ‘arguing’ about, if we have to use the word argue.

    You are right that the majority of the stories on the site do involve men, and love/relationships. Is that Secret’s fault? Or the posters’ fault? You asserted it was Secret’s in the original post. And I don’t believe immediately that’s so, for the reasons I gave above. The only way to prove that is to get a lot of women to try to post stories that have nothing to do with men, and see what happens. I’m sorta disqualified from that effort, and in fact my being involved at all would defeat the purpose, so.

    And maybe I don’t realize how little thought is given to women on a daily basis. I certainly think about people who are women quite a bit, and not in the sexual sense, and perhaps that makes me abnormal. You are correct that thinking about men happens in general a disproportionate amount of the time due to power structure. And that nobody ever acts like there’s repercussions for not bothering. Certainly not for the most powerful. That _is_ a good point to be made: That normal women’s lives _are_ often filled with thoughts of men, disproportionaly in importance to thoughts of women due to power, romance, and sexual relationships, and this website is evidence for it. But that doesn’t mean that the Secret campaign is about insulting women.


  12. Mecha says

    And the site encourages the ‘Fairly strong’ case at worst, but not the Strong case explicitly, if one is talking about ‘shame secrets’ (nothing to tell if you’re strong enough to never make a mistake you’re ashamed of.) If it’s just trivia, well.

    As is pointed out well above, there aren’t many examples of the true heart-bearing self-focused stories compared to the relationship ones, or anti-patriarchy stories. Perhaps, for the campaign to really be about strong women, there needs to be. But it’s not something I can do, and while I don’t think Secret’s doing enough to make it clear that those sorts of stories are very welcome (How about making one of them the ads?)… the stories are still out there, aren’t they? Who is going to tell them to the internet on a possibly commercial website?


  13. Mecha says

    On the subject, but other thoughts on it by someone else: http://marketingtowomenonline.typepad.com/blog/2006/08/share_your_secr.html is another ‘media’ish blog (yes, I googled to look into the subject further) that talks about this, and also has a problem with it. She apparently saw some ads that nobody here brought up (some of which sound even weirder than the ones we’ve had.) And I think that her mental examination of ‘the premise’ being off (about secrets) is part of what I was getting at, and asking about about the main campaign.


  14. sbg says

    The campaign seems to want to highlight “I’m strong…but, look, I have flaws too.” That’s fine, of course, but shouldn’t we all know that even strong people have flaws? I still just can’t figure out how sharing “secrets” whether contrived, trivial or downright heartwrenching relates to deodorant in any way other than the name brand.

    For the record, I’m not likely to share a true secret, and certainly not for some lame advertising scheme. I’m more inclined to share my “secret” affinity for belching.

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’m really confused as to the gist of your argument at this point. I’m not even sure we’re disagreeing, or what you’re talking issue with, exactly.

    I did just today see the ad about the sister who ratted to the parents about the other sister’s sex life. Major WTF moment, there, and I agree with everything marketingtowomenonline said about it. Maybe this ad better supports the points I was trying to make with the other ads: a sister betraying a secret is NOT an icon of female strength. Actually, I would argue she’s just the opposite. Solidarity is what makes a group strong in society. When women betray each other in that manner, we help to keep ourselves down.

    This, naturally, is what Secret chose to highlight on a national TV spot, instead of the stories you found on the net, which could be seen as indicators of strength.

    I may be hypersensitive to the failure to include stories that have absolutely fuck-all to do with men, because I have too much experience with people relating every aspect of my life back to men. It’s just something people do with girls and women, and don’t even realize they’re doing anything biased.

  16. Mecha says

    Well, part of that I think is because I’m trying to _find_ my position on it, based upon the evidence that’s coming up, and examining that added aspect of ‘could they do it right even if they tried?’ with secrets.

    I have to agree with what you and marketingtowomenonline say about that ad, from what I hear. That’s really… a lousy choice that doesn’t say anything about strength. And it does support what you are thinking very much, that secret went for flash via sexuality. I think maybe they wanted to go with ‘common experiences’, but have been watching too many teen movies. It sounds very WTF.

    I’m thinking Secret really did blow it on the TV ad campaign, with that one (it definitely throws the weight over 50% relationship-focused.) I just needed to see more. I don’t think it’s malice (apparently, the director really was going for realism), but that one does wreck the message up. It could be so much stronger, I think, at least in theory.

    As to the last part, I can understand that, I think. The ‘people always relate things back to men to prove their importance’ idea. It’s so easy to do passively, because men are around half the population, and if it makes things more noticable/acceptable, one might tend to do it accidentally. Sorta like hedging language. Anyway. ^^;


  17. Mecha says

    I don’t think it’s supposed to relate directly (the brand, in my mind, always referred to the idea of a ‘feminine secret/mystique.) All this web/community contribution stuff is is pretty unproven as an ad technique in general.

    For the record, I’m not likely to share a true secret, and certainly not for some lame advertising scheme. I’m more inclined to share my “secret” affinity for belching.

    That sort of thing is what I was asking about when I was wondering if the format promoted the message. They didn’t create enough of a ‘common space’, I don’t think, for real messages, which makes the web-side of it fall to a majority of trivia. Mmm.


  18. Jennifer Kesler says

    As to “could they do it right if they tried”, I think so. Here’s what I’d have done. Remember, we have to work in the word “Secret” because it’s a brand. 😉

    I’d ask women to share their Secret opinions or Secret accomplishments or Secret ambitions they think no one wants to hear about. I’d present it as a space for women to get stuff off their chests, or brag without fear of reprisal. I probably wouldn’t refer to female strength, but rather call it “The Secret World of Women” or something and invite people to find out what women are REALLY into.

    But let’s assume some MBA waved a spreadsheet in a board meeting and said, “You HAVE to say something about ‘strong women’ – every time we say that phrase to a test group, their pulses raise by two beats per minute and they grab their wallets.”

    “Er, okay,” I’d say, while Secretly plotting his demise. And then I’d rework it to focus on just Secret Accomplishments that you’re too shy to share, or that no one appreciates, and toss in a slogan about how much we all have to learn about the hidden strengths of women.

    I think this could suit the boss without irritating bloggers like me and marketingtowomen online.

    I also forgot to mention that the phrase “Share your secret” plays just as they go to images of the anti-perspirant on the TV commercials, and sickens me. It makes me think they mean sharing the product itself for a second there and, uh, no thanks. 😛

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