Burt's Bees Apologizes for Lotion That Invites Catcalls

All-natural skin care company Burt’s Bees has a reputation for being socially conscious reputation, but after many claimed that a description written on a jar of its moisturizer encourages the harassment of women, the cosmetics maker issued an apology.

Güd, a division of Burt’s Bees, had discontinued its Vanilla Flame Body Butter in January; however, remaining stock was placed in the outlet section of its website and is still being sold via other retailers. The controversial label reads, “Soak in the moisturizing seductiveness of shea butter and indulge in the scent of vanilla and rice milk. And let the catcalling commence.”

On Thursday, 29-year-old Colleen Kiphart, a communications expert (she declined to provide her city and state), who bought the Vanilla Flame Body Butter, tweeted an excerpt from the label to Hollaback, an anti-street-harassment group and this message: "On my @gudhappens is @burtsbees body butter. Catcalling is a violence against women." She tells Yahoo Shine, "I was offended but didn't know if I was overreacting, so I tweeted to Hollaback for perspective."

The organization didn't think she was overreacting at all, responding: "WHOA. Can you send us more pics? And are you interested in starting a petition?" In collaboration with Kiphart, Hollaback created a petition on Change.org, asking Burt’s Bee’s: “To demonstrate your support for people who are street harassed globally, issue a real apology, agree to stop production of products that legitimize street harassment, and make a donation to organizations working to end street harassment and other forms of gender-based violence.” As of Friday, the petition had garnered nearly 1,700 signatures.

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On Thursday, güd issued an apology on its Facebook page.

"We would like to address a topic that has recently caused concern for many of you. First, we apologize if the wording on our Vanilla Flame Body Butter packaging offended anyone. güd, from Burt’s Bees, in no way encourages gender-based harassment and the objectification of women. güd is a brand built on positivity. Our products are designed to make women feel good on the inside and out. We want women everywhere to be able to enjoy amazing smelling natural personal care products that will leave them smiling, not attracting undesirable and disrespectful attention. This product will only be on shelves while supplies last.”

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The post triggered debate on güd's own Facebook page, with commenter Julia May Wohlford writing, “I personally love your products esp vanilla flame! And I think the descriptions are cute and playful.” Crystal Ronk: “Seriously? That's what all the fuss is about? Smh.. People will always find something to be offended by won't they?” And Rose Underwood wrote, "I am absolutely gobsmacked at the amount of women that are defending this product! It is a REAL issue with devastating results and this promotion of it is vile and ignorant! Everyone should boycott Güd for their thoughtless wording."

However, the apology didn’t sit well with the Hollaback organization, which believes the company’s response is feeble, at best. “Street harassment is a global problem affecting girls as young as 7 and as old as 70,” Emily May, founder of Hollaback, tells Yahoo Shine. “If harassment occurred in an office, there would be systems in place to fight it; when it happens on the street, women are on their own. Burt’s Bee’s offered a nonapology — they’re basically saying, ‘We’re sorry you’re offended,’ not ‘We’re sorry we were offensive.’” May adds that the company should issue an apology for its nonapology and make a donation to Hollaback or partner with the organization on a campaign to raise awareness of street harassment.  

A representative from güd emailed the following statement to Yahoo Shine: "We realize upon closer inspection that with this particular messaging we took the playful personality of the brand too far and didn’t reflect deeply on the implications of our language. We will be reviewing all of the güd packaging copy to ensure that our language truly conveys a positive message to women, which has been our intention all along."

Humor and sex are tried-and-true marketing tactics for products ranging from cars to cleaning supplies. Is güd's slogan for moisturizer any more offensive than, say, an ad for the men's body spray Axe, in which an unsuspecting dude sprays it on himself and gets bombarded by a stampede of bikini-clad women? Yes, says John Verret, associate professor of advertising at Boston University. “There’s an unwritten rule in advertising that, if you have the choice, avoid going after women, various ethnic groups, and the gay community — the potential to offend is too great,” he tells Yahoo Shine. "Humor directed at men is a bit more liberal. That's why you'll often see men portrayed as bumbling fools in television and advertisements." And even higher standards are expected of companies that bill themselves as socially conscious. "It was a silly mistake that we probably won't see again from the brand," he says.

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