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Bic apologizes to women in South Africa after tone-deaf ad

The pen company implored its Facebook followers to 'think like a man' on South Africa's national women's day.

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    The Bic ad that ran on its South Africa-specific page on a day the country honors women.
    Bic/via Facebook
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Bic wrote itself into headlines with a tone-deaf ad geared toward its female customers.

Like a lot of companies do, the pen maker waded into the social media melee to mark a public holiday in South Africa honoring women. But its Facebook post urging women to, "Look like a girl, Act like a lady, Think like a man, Work like a boss" did anything but.

The company posted the ad with a photo of a smiling female model on its Facebook page on Sunday, the anniversary of a 1956 march led by women protesting South Africa's white minority rule at the time, The Associated Press reports.

There was quick blowback from social media users who called the ad sexist, and Bic South Africa removed the post and quickly issued a statement. But the first attempt to say “sorry” still offended; Bic's initial apology stated, in part, the message was taken from a third party, and was meant "in the most empowering way possible," The Citizen reported.

Commenters were quick to poke holes in the apology. Commenter Danielle Kate wrote:

“We are sorry we offended but are not sorry for our ad because it came from another website which means it’s not really our fault. We say we are for the empowerment of women but our product range and consistent messaging around products for women reveals the exact opposite.”

In its second attempt at an apology on Tuesday, Bic wrote, "This post should never have gone out. The feedback you have given us will help us ensure that something like this will never happen again, and we appreciate that."

This is not the first time Bic has started an online frenzy over its treatment of women.

In 2012, it launched a new line of its standard "Cristal" pen, the new model labeled "for her", with a sleeker design, and in muted pastels. Bic Cristal For Her pens are still for sale on Amazon. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres joked at the time that the pens are "built strong enough for a man, but simple enough that even a woman can understand how to use them."

These "for her" writing instruments are $8.47 for 16 pens, compared to $3.29 per dozen for standard Bic Cristal, at the time of this writing. But Consumer Affairs points out the price gap has narrowed. In September 2013, Amazon charged $9.04 for 16 Cristal For Her pens, compared to only $1.71 for a dozen gender-neutral Cristal pens. Progress?

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