03 January 2011

The D-Cup -ification of optics, or "C'mon, Edmund Optics, really?"

Hi -

I work in the field of optics, meaning that my clients ask our company to design systems ranging from complex lenses to DNA analyzers to various video game technologies. Just as we all get catalogs from, say, Crate & Barrel at home, engineers in optics get catalogs like Edmund Optics or Thor (or whatever) at work. Flip through the pages, and you'll see hundreds of lenses, filters, cameras, lasers, ... :

An obviously very sexy page of lenses

Around 2005, I started to notice that the catalog cover for Edmund Optics was somehow becoming increasingly... how shall we say... sexualized. What used to be a bunch of lenses and a fiber optic would next be a few lenses and an attractive model. A few years later, and (maybe it's just my eagle eye) the model definitely became the emphasis of the cover.

Okay, fine. Attractive models to sell stuff to any customer base, including techies, isn't new. It certainly doesn't help the ongoing mission of Bring More Women Into Science, but I suppose it is in line with common practice, even if you find it objectionable.

Now - Call me prude, but in my opinion Edmund took a bit of a bigger step into Objectification Land with this season's catalog:

C'mon, Edmund, really? Did we have to bring out cartoon superhero D-cup woman?

As my friends will attest, I might be just as blind as the next typical guy when it comes to spotting and complaining about gender stereotypes. But doesn't this seem to cross the line for you? I wonder how the many women who work in optics will react to this, as it's a field as yet uncontaminated by sales tactics like these. Not like it would have excused the artwork, but optics is certainly not an all-men's club.


I will at least accept the flattery that Edmund's catalog is now using a cartoon-bubble motif of "Project deadline looming - what to do now???"-type art, especially as Optics for Hire used it at last year's Photonics West. And we did it without the inflatable model. (Though I must say my CEO and I look dapper in suits.)

Then again, if their marketing department's goal was to get people talking, well, I guess it worked.

Next time, how about choosing any of 100 motivational things - maybe even non misogynistic things - to get people talking?



Anonymous said...

Hi Gregg,

We understand your concerns and want to offer our sincerest apologies if you were offended by the comic book style characters, this was clearly not our intent.

Our superhero cover features a fictitious female comic character who perseveres in finding an optical supplier that can provide on-time delivery and technical support. The campaign also features several male characters as well as a cast of evil villains. It is a comic-based, satirical play on the challenge of finding and receiving the right products and services at the right time. The usage of these characters is intended to be fun, highlighting customers’ “superhero” powers in solving applications. Likewise, all character renderings were produced by a third party that specializes in superhero comic illustrations.

Perhaps the more exciting part of this campaign are the featured stories on real optics superheroes like Kathleen Richardson at Clemson University, which can be found at www.edmundoptics.com/superhero. We're looking to honor and recognize individuals, actively involved with the advancement of optical sciences, whose unique contributions have catapulted the photonics industry. We welcome the public to visit our site at http://www.edmundoptics.com/landing-pages/optics-super-hero to nominate their real-life superheroes. This award represents an opportunity to honor and recognize these individuals, highlighting their work, supporting colleagues, and unique contributions to photonics.


Kirsten Bjork-Jones

G-Fav said...

Hi Kirsten,

Thanks for responding to my blog post, and also for taking the rare step of putting a face or a name behind the creators of this marketing campaign. (LinkedIn says you're in marketing @ Edmund.)

Regarding your explanation, sure, I get the point. Some of it I get, and some of it still bugs me a bit (e.g. did you not have editorial power over your 3rd-party's illustrations?).

So - Maybe a piece of constructive criticism is this: as admittedly just one customer in a sea of many, I certainly would be in favor of your attenuating aspects of the comic strip and amplifying the real-life stories of men and women solving problems in the science and engineering of optics.


Anonymous said...


Thanks for the response and we are looking forward to having you follow our superhero story. We have some exciting comics in the works and have identified some spectacular real-life superheroes that we are thrilled to share with the photonics community.

If you are at Photonics West, stop by booth 1214 and say hi!


Gina Mosca said...

Hi Gregg,

Your observations regarding the Edmunds catalog are spot-on. I exchanged emails with Ms. Bjork-Jones about this very issue today. In the past, my fellow female optical engineers have registered complaints as well. I for one am going to try to do my purchasing elsewhere!


Gary said...

Hi Gregg,
Kirsten Bjork-Jones response is the exact worded response that my colleague received regarding the 2011 Edmund Optics cover. Seems weak on Edmund's part if they can't even answer an email on a personal basis.

G-Fav said...

Gina, Gary -

Sigh. I had mentioned this stuff to a few friends... they said things like this:

* "Maybe next time they could have female 'superheroes' doing actual science instead of doing the male engineers' bidding? She might as well be fetching them coffee."
* "I like how the apology suggests that you somehow just don't like superheroes. Or women in optics. Kind of sidesteps the whole issue..."
* "On the plus side: a response! Very attentive and professional! On the minus side: 'We're not misogynistic, we're just using comics. Because, you know, the genre conventions of comics are never misogynist.' Their next comics-themed catalogue should be commissioned from Alison Bechtel -- that would solve the problem."
* "Just in from Forbes: 15-19 yr. old demographic revenue course on 2011 Q2 Lab Instrument sector. Looking bearish."

In other news, I recently returned from an SPIE conference and noticed they had wonderful pocket-calendars featuring many female optical engineers and physicists from around the world. I don't recall if they were SPIE or OSA calendars, but I thought, "This is cool."


Anonymous said...

Check out Episode 2 on the Edmund Optics Superhero site. Just sayin'...

Anonymous said...

For me the character looks very similar to your booth staff at trade shows.

G-Fav said...

The Amp Hour links to a piece in Discover about the Edmund catalogs from several years ago.

Anonymous said...

So, what did you think of the new EO Fall Master catalog 2011?