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Credit Union Draws Fire Over ‘Lady Loans’

A New Zealand credit union found itself in hot water after running a loan campaign that some women say is sexist.

Banks and credit unions have long known women that exhibit a disproportionate level of control over household finances. For at least two or three decades, financial marketers have tried various techniques and tactics to woo women.

NZCU Baywide is the latest financial draw aim at the women’s market, but instead of striking a chord the ad campaign is drawing fire from critics who deride the credit union’s approach as sexist and insulting.

The focal point of everyone’s outrage is a microsite the credit union launched in September. “Loans for Ladies” encourages women to borrow between $1,000 and $50,000 for “an all-day makeover, a shopping spree, or that second car you’ve always dreamt of …anything goes honey!” Rates on ladies’ loans start at 13.95% — hardly a bargain.

The microsite sports a retro-50s style — aqua and pink, with vintage cartoon depictions of women — with a series of obnoxious captions. “Cinderella is proof a pair of shoes can change your life,” reads one caption on the microsite. “Sometimes you need to put a little extra in your purse to treat, pamper or just make yourself feel like the goddess you are.”

“Money isn’t everything … but it ranks right up there with oxygen,” reads another.

“Money can’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in an Audi than on the bus.”

( Read More: Credit Union’s Use Of Cleavage Sparks Petition, Apology )


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Angry Feedback Streams Over Social Channels

The campaign has backfired with some folks, mostly women — the intended target audience. Comments on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook span a range of criticisms:

  • “Credit unions are admirable. Lazy stereotyping is not.”
  • “I want to use Loans For Ladies but it looks so complicated. Maybe if I get a man to explain the big words to me.”
  • “Get a loan for a shopping spree? Great fiscal management there.”
  • “I don’t think you’ve used quite enough pink on your website, or nearly enough images of impossibly high-heeled shoes. But when it comes to misogyny though, it’s two thumbs up!”
  • “What amazes me is the complaints are about sexism rather than frivalous loans.”

What are people so angry about? Perhaps it has to do with perpetuating stereotypes that women are shallow, financially impractical, and only spend money on frivolous luxuries? Or maybe it’s the creative execution, which deliberately makes a nostalgic connection back to a time when women were subjugated and enslaved as homemakers? Or could it be the phony testimonials?

Yep, that’s right: the credit union published fake testimonials on its “Loans for Ladies” microsite.

“I got a loan for Loans For Ladies and got nipped and tucked from ear to ear,” said one faux “member,” ostensibly named Frankie Olson. “I feel like a million dollars.”

Ahhh, so “Frankie” borrowed a couple thousand, invested in a massive face lift, and now she feels like a million? That must be, like, the ROI of vanity?

As many faults as critics might find with this campaign, these fake testimonials are by far the most egregious. If there were 10 commandments for financial marketers, one would most certainly read: “Thou shalt never commit testimonial fraud.” It’s a cardinal sin. Banks and credit unions are only able to sell financial products on a foundation of trust. Lying to people is a surefire recipe for undermining trust.

Reality Check: If your financial products and services don’t trigger testimonials organically, you should spend your time improving your offering not making up fake quotes.

( Read More: A Great Campaign That Raises a Question of Social Media Ethics )

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NZCU Baywide claims the testimonials were intended purely to be “indicative” and not “actual” quotes, and says the microsite was supposed to be spoof.

“I appreciate that some will take offence to it, and we certainly do apologize to anyone who does,” Gavin Earle, the credit union’s CEO, said in an interview. “But at the end of the day it’s meant to be light-hearted and a bit of fun.”

Earle said the testimonials were clearly made up and would eventually be replaced with real ones.

Genuine testimonials are going to be hard to come by, even though NZCU Baywide received 76 applications and 150 other inquiries in the first 48 hours after the campaign was launched. The credit union says most women applying for the loans are getting declined, with an approval rate of only 6-7%. Earle blames tighter lending requirements.

Key Question: Why offer a controversial product that no one can qualify for? What’s the upside?


Kelly Taylor, Marketing Manager/NZCU Baywide

It might be easy to dismiss this campaign as the insensitive by-product of a male-dominated ad industry. “You see, this is what happens when you let men try to market to women.” But that’s not the case. NZCU Baywide’s marketing department — the team that came up with “Loans for Ladies” — is all women (although they did hire a copywriter named Ed for the project).

Kelly Taylor, marketing and communications manager for NZCU Baywide, says the site is “in no way meant to be derogatory.”

Auckland resident Karen Tay isn’t convinced. “Just because something is the product of an all-female marketing team doesn’t mean it can’t be sexist and idiotic,” wrote Tay on Twitter.

Key Questions: When targeting a specific gender (men or women), at what point does a campaign cross the line? What’s the difference between pandering, patronizing and downright sexism? How do you target women with financial services in ways that are relevant yet inoffensive?

NZCU Baywide’s “Loans for Ladies” campaign isn’t the first to target women with the implication that they may want money for expensive plastic surgeries. In 2012, a credit union in the U.S. took a mountain of flack for a direct mailer about boob jobs.

US Senate Federal Credit Union had to backpedal after sending out this risqué direct mail piece inviting members to take out loans for breast enlargement procedures. The exterior of the mailer simply asked, “Got Big Plans?” When opened, the folded pop-up shoved a pair of augmented breasts right in the recipient’s face.

Citibank Thank You Card – Rock Climbing Commercial

This 30-second TV spot mocks stereotypes about women. For a weekend getaway, a young woman needs “some accessories” — a new belt, some nylons and new shoes… except it’s all climbing gear. She’s a confident and independent woman who doesn’t need to be married in order to be happy, as the script implies. Citi didn’t hire any actors either. The climber is Katie Brown, a world-famous international athlete. Whenever you market to a niche audience, authenticity is critical.

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  1. While 13.95% doesn’t seem like a bargain, after viewing rates on other New Zealand credit union sites, the standard low rates are around 10-11% and go all the way up to 22%. While in the US we’re used to low rates at 2.99% or so, 13.95% appears to be a pretty typical rate for New Zealand.

  2. Thanks for the comment Scott. It may be a “competitive rate” for the New Zealand market, but still… 13.95% is no bargain — not cheap money. Once you get over 20%, it starts to feel like usury — not that far from pawn shops and payday lenders.

  3. There are thousands and thousands of ads targeted towards men. Everything from automobiles and trucks, to hunting and camping gear, to fast food and sporting goods. No one complains that men are targeted. Could it be that women have become so marginalized in the ad industry that when they are targeted, they don’t know how to react?

  4. Yes, John. Women are so rarely targeted in marketing and we just don’t know how to act when we are finally recognized as consumer (said in my most sarcastic tone). I agree with one point you made, which is that men are also pinned into a gender stereotype…however, the one you speak of is a “strong, masculine, man’s man” which doesn’t really paint men in a negative light, right? Why would men complain about that? On the other hand, the “Lady Loans” campaign sends the message that women only care about frivilous things like shoes and massages. And don’t forget ladies, it is really easy to apply…you don’t even need a man to help. If you don’t see the difference, then you are part of the problem.

  5. Three points for further consideration.

    1. Advertisers stereotype. That’s what they do, and it’s what they’ve always done. (For reference, see the “Gay Controversy” section at the top of this article.) Marketers — for better or worse — have to draw assumptions about their target audience. This involves demographic data like age, gender, race and income. Normally looking at people through this lens is discouraged in our society; it’s considered prejudicial or bigoted. But for marketers, it’s a part of their everyday responsibilities.

    2. It is inaccurate to assume that the stereotypes of men asserted by marketers always paint a picture of a strength, masculinity, capability and confidence. For the last 20 years or so, the vogue advertising image of the modern male is often the bumbling, lazy, incompetent, emotionally insensitive guy. There’s the good-for-nothing dad sitting around sleeping on the sofa on Sunday; if it weren’t for product X, his wife would go insane. Then there’s the dad who doesn’t know how to get anything done. And then there are the guys portrayed as emotionally clueless. Are these fair? Accurate? Maybe… some of the time, just as there is usually some truth in every stereotype.

    3. Whenever a marketer targets any niche audience — gays, Hispanics, women, military veterans, dog lovers, etc. — they run the risk of alienating their audience, whether it be from inappropriate or exaggerated stereotypes, or shameless pandering. As the article points out, there’s a fine line between crafting an ad that speaks to the target niche audience in a relevant way and pissing them off.

  6. I respectfully disagree with several of your points.

    If an advertiser is stereotyping, they are doing their job incorrectly and ineffectively. Advertisers should be segmenting. There is a difference. Stereotyping involves making assumptions on an entire population of people, not based on research of any kind. that the entire grouping of people have the same characteristics. Segmenting, on the other hand, involves dividing up a market into like-minded groups with similar product needs based on research. Segmenting works best when combining multiple variables (not a blanket “all women like to shop”).

    I absolutely agree that marketing associated with men is not always focused on masculinity. I would argue though that most advertising aimed to actually sell something to men has a masculine tone. In advertising aimed to sell something to women, advertisers sometimes play off of the “lazy, good for nothing man” stereotype, which is just as bad as the Ladies Loans. To your point about there being some truth to every stereotype…of course there is…but you could say the exact same thing about another part of the population and there will be some truth in that as well. There are women who love to shop, but there are also men who love to shop.

  7. Lindsey, no one said anything about what works and what doesn’t… what’s good and what’s not… what’s effective and what isn’t… what should be done and what shouldn’t. All the previous comment pointed out is what happens in the marketing profession: audience data is collected and analyzed, and conclusions are drawn. Does segmenting work? Sure. But marketers will still be drawing assumptions, even about the most tiny segments they define.

    No one is trying to defend Lady Loans. No one is defending stereotypes, nor their purpose/application either. We’re just making observations.

  8. I wrote the copy. Feel free to visit my website (ladies and others) to find out more about what I do –

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