If you’re a lady, Nine West says leopard print pumps will help you find a husband. Actually, not your main husband. Just your “starter” husband—presumably the one you get before you have enough money to upgrade to a better husband. Also acceptable husband-snatchers: peep-toe stilettos, red leather gladiator heels, and some sort of open-toed boot thing called “meoww.”
This is part of Nine West’s new advertising campaign for the fall. Instead of selling shoes for dates or parties or the office—you know, places women actually go to—the 31-year-old shoe company has invented occasions at which women will want to look their best. The problem: The events they’ve come up with are “starter husband hunting” and what to wear when you drop your child off for the first day of kindergarten and can’t stop crying.
Yes, uncontrollable crying is part of the ad. “The bus arrives and so do the waterworks,” Nine West’s ad says, next to a photograph of a surprisingly well-dressed model—sorry, I mean mother—littering the floor with used tissues.
The campaign, which targets women from 25 to 49, is the work of Minneapolis advertising firm Peterson Milla Hooks. It is featured in all 600 of the company’s stores as well as in its most recent magazine ads. Neither Peterson Milla Hooks nor Nine West responded to requests for comment, so I’m not sure how many life events the campaign will cover; according to a recent New York Times article, we can expect at least a few more. One occasion is to be called Drunch—a drunken lunch—at which women wear sexy shoes as they sip champagne.
“I just don’t understand what Nine West is doing,” says Kelly Goldsmith, assistant professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. “As a woman and a wearer of shoes, this is patently ridiculous to me. As someone who works in marketing, I’m 100 percent positive there is a strategy here, I’m just not sure what it is. It feels like Nine West is trying to make a joke, but that’s just not funny.”
Goldsmith surmises that Nine West wanted get a lot of attention online, and to that end the campaign been successful. The ads have been written about on Mashable and Huffington Post and derided by thousands of people on Twitter. “They purport to be going after women 25-to-49, but I have a hard time swallowing that. I think they’re going after women much younger,” Goldsmith says, pointing to the starter-husband ad as proof. “The average social media user is a lot younger than the average Nine West customer.”
That may be true, but Nine West is at least pretending that mothers of kindergarteners would be interested in its shoes. To find out if that is actually true, I polled some moms I know to see if they’d wear any of these shoes while taking their children to school.
“Haha what,” wrote my friend Kate, who lives in Ohio. I’d sent her a link to Nine West’s shoes in an e-mail, and that’s all she had time to write in reply—her kid had just woken from a nap. ”Not happening,” responded Jennifer Dillard, who lives in Mississippi. “Also, that woman appears to have shaved her legs waaaaaay too recently to have an actual kindergartener living at her house.”
“The only person who’s going to notice those shoes is that one random kid asking why your shoes look so insane,” says my friend Julie in North Carolina. Another person just sent me a picture of the Kardashians.
In fact, the only mother not immediately put off by the shoes was Tracy Moore, an author and Jezebel writer who lives in Los Angeles and has encountered real moms wearing stuff like this while dropping her daughter off at preschool in Santa Monica. “I imagine that every woman I see wearing these shoes at [preschool] drop-off is headed to the most high-powered, glamorous job in town,” she said. But when I pointed out that part of Nine West’s ad says that because school started, “Mommy now has the weeks off,” Moore changed her mind. “Ah,” she replied, “this is supposed to be stay-at-home mom gear. Nope.”
A lot happens to a woman between her dating and kindergarten carpooling days. If Nine West’s campaign proves successful, there are countless other life moments it could try to convince us to experience while wearing uncomfortable four-inch heels. The store could present shoes for “meeting your ex’s new girlfriend and making sure you look better than her.” Or perhaps”texting your new starter-husband hopeful to come meet your friends at a bar, trying to save face when he doesn’t show, and then slinking to his apartment later, even though you swore to yourself you wouldn’t do that again.”
That life occasion would be followed the next morning by the embarrassing walk home. Thankfully, Nine West has already covered that one with an ad featuring an “anticipatory walk of shame” handbag and a pair of flip-flops.