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Ladies' shoe campaign generates controversy and a buzz

Sunday - 8/10/2014, 2:58am  ET

WASHINGTON -- A new ad campaign for shoes seems to insult the very people who buy the product.

The latest offerings in Nine West's new shoe campaign is a leopard print stiletto for "starter husband" hunting, a pair of stylish flip flops, a designer bag for that morning-after anticipatory walk of shame, and some peek toe booties to send the kids off on the school bus.

Beth Johnson is the CEO of Bethesda advertising agency rp3.

"Instead of connecting with me, it feels more like an imposed stereotype," she says.

Johnson says Nine West struck the wrong tone in the terms they use. "What woman talks with her friends about finding a starter husband or about the walk of shame?" she asks.

The fall campaign is aimed at women ages 25-49, although Johnson thinks they are really aiming for the younger end of that demographic. But she points out that "even younger women have aspirations that go far beyond what is characterized in this work."

Social media response both criticizes and applauds the ads. Some women call them offensive and insulting, while others say they are funny and clever.

Former D.C. advertising agency owner Howard Bomstein agrees with the praise. He says this campaign focuses on the benefits of the shoes that you purchase in conjunction with lifestyle.

"It's very clever, very interesting and very different," he says.

In fact, he would give them an 'A' in his class at the University of Maryland Business School, where he is an adjunct professor teaching marketing and branding.

"Controversial advertising often draws a lot of attention," he says.

But why did the company single out occasions such as husband hunting, or "Drunch" (drunken brunch) to start wearing your black peep toe gladiator booties?

Erika Szychowski, senior vice president of marketing for Nine West, told the New York Times that the company took the idea of special occasions and just gave it an updated flair.

"We have to change the way we talk about occasions, because women are modern now and shop for a different reason," Szychowski said.

Johnson says the concept of shoe occasions has merit, but feels these ads were shaped by stereotypes, society and quite often…men.

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