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Friday, December 08, 2006

Brand idea failures: La Femme

Where are the pink ladies?

In the 1950s, US car manufacturers discovered a new target customer, the female car buyer. Up until that point, cars had been viewed as a male preserve. However, an increase in prosperity combined with the levelling of the sexes that occurred in the years following World War II managed to change all that. Women wouldn’t want any old car though. Oh no. They’d want a car that appealed to their feminine interests. They’d want flowers. They’d want a girly name. They’d want accessories. But most of all, they’d want pink.

At least, that is what car manufacturers Chrysler believed after researching this apparently strange and exotic creature. The end result was La Femme, part of the Dodge division and the first car designed specifically for women. The car was pink and white, and the seats were decorated with a tapestry style cloth depicting a pattern of pink rosebuds on a pink background. The carpeting was dark burgundy colour. In the publicity material La Femme was said to be ‘designed for Her Royal Highness – the American Woman.’

In 1955 Dodge sent the following letter, expressing the company’s enthusiasm for La Femme, to all Dodge Dealers across the United States:


The enclosed folder will introduce you to the La Femme, by Dodge, the first car ever exclusively designed for the woman motorist.

At the Chicago Auto Show, the La Femme received exceptionally enthusiastic response and it is enjoying similar response at special shows and exhibits in other parts of the country.

Exterior color scheme of the car is Heather Rose over Sapphire White, and there is a gold La Femme nameplate on each front fender, replacing the Royal Lancer nameplate. The interior consists of specially designed Heather Rose Jacquard Fabrics and Heather Rose Cordagrain bolster and trim. The materials used, of course, possess the usual qualities of durability, beauty, economy, and ease of cleaning.

The crowning touches which personalize the La Femme are its special feminine accessories. Two compartments located on the backs of the front seats are upholstered in Heather Rose Cordagrain. The compartment on the driver’s side contains a stylish rain cape, fisherman’s style rain hat and umbrella which carry out the Jacquard motif. The other compartment holds a stunning shoulder bag in soft rose leather. It is fitted with compact, lighter, lipstick and cigarette case.

Available only in the Custom Royal Lancer model, the La Femme can now be ordered for March delivery. Naturally, a model of this type will initially be built in limited quantities and will be handled on first come, first served basis. Complete price information can be obtained from a Confidential Price Bulletin, which you will be receiving within the next few days.

I hope you will endeavor to see the La Femme at your earliest opportunity. I believe you will agree that this unusual car has great appeal to women, and that it gives Dodge dealers a ‘drawing card’ enjoyed by no other dealer group.

Very truly yours, L F Desmond, General Sales Manager Dodge Division The experiment was a complete failure. The dealers that decided to order La Femme found that the cars sat unsold in the showroom.

Unperturbed, Dodge tried again the following year. But still it had no takers. Women found the crude attempts to attract their attention rather patronizing. This was, after all, appealing to a classic male ideal of femininity, rather than how the 1950s woman actually saw herself. There simply weren’t enough women who wanted a pink and purple car with matching lipstick holders and combs.

Lesson from La Femme

  • Don’t patronize your customers. It didn’t work in the 1950s, and it certainly doesn’t work now.

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