For the month of November, Cupcake Royale has introduced six new flavors to help raise money for survivors of domestic violence. The new flavors are Choco-latte, Vanilla Dream, Chai Cinnamon, Caramel Delight, Lemon Cherry Blossom, and Banana Cream. From now until November 22, a portion of the proceeds from every "Seattle Sweeties" cupcake sold will go to Runway to Freedom, an annual fashion show that benefits Mary's Place, a shelter for homeless women, children, and families. By providing shelter, nourishment, and support, Mary's Place empowers women.
If only the "Seattle Sweeties" marketing campaign did the same thing.
To promote the cupcakes, Cupcake Royale has teamed up with local community-minded rapper Draze, whose song "Seattle Sweeties" provided the inspiration for the series. In his new anthem "for the ladies," Draze manages to completely objectify women as he celebrates them. This is par for the course in hiphop, but that doesn't make it any easier to hear Draze call ladies of Seattle “candy-coated women dipped in pure cane sugar” or "my Chai Cinnamon, butter skin with those hazel eyes.” (Update: In my original post, I wrote that Draze’s lyrics were “[I’m] just tryna pick your brain then slide between them thighs,” which I based off of listening to the song several times. However, Michelle Leyva, a spokesperson for Draze, contacted me to say that the lyrics are actually “just tryin to pick your brains, not slide between them thighs.” This is obviously a huge distinction and completely changes my interpretation of those lines. I apologize for the mistake.)
Last year, Draze thoughtfully and effectively explored issues of gentrification in the Central District and South End in his song "The Hood Ain't the Same." "They asked mama to sell her home, she said no / but then we had to shake when them property taxes rose," he rapped. Unfortunately, he fails to bring that same level of social critique when it comes to the issue of violence against women.
It’s surprising and disappointing that Cupcake Royale, a company owned and operated by women, signed off on this clueless marketing campaign, which reduces women to Choco-latte and Caramel Delight "Sweeties." The flavors purport to capture the "diversity of beauty, style and culture of the women in the Pacific Northwest," but instead reflect only a smattering of skin tones, seeming to equate a woman’s identity with her physical appearance.
Nicki Kerbs, Cupcake Royale's Chief Operating Officer, said she doesn’t think the marketing campaign is problematic. "With this specific series, we didn’t even think about it like that,” she said. “We hadn't thought about it at all. For us, it's not a conversation that a cupcake is representing a type of woman. It's more that we want to create this thing that is just for women. When women come into our shop, they want beautiful, flavorful, epic cupcakes."
But, again, the press release announcing Seattle Sweeties says that the flavors are "representing the diversity of beauty, style, and culture of the women in the Pacific Northwest."
Cupcake Royale is clearly a creative company. If they really wanted to reflect the personalities of women in their cupcakes, they could have gone beyond the idea of them just being sweet—they could have also been, say, "spicy," "warm," or "salty." And if they truly wanted to represent the diversity of culture in Seattle, they could have come up with flavors that use the spices and flavors of those cultures. (Although they could have avoided this entirely by choosing not to make the cupcakes embody women at all, and simply sell limited-edition flavors to benefit a worthy cause.)
"In our mind frame Vanilla Dream...and Caramel Delight are not derogatory in any way," Kerbs told me. "And the term 'sweeties' is a very endearing word used by lovers, friends, and family members. We don’t associate that word with being a negative. It's part of our everyday vocabulary because we deliver sweetness." She reiterated that Cupcake Royale's mission is to "empower women and make people feel good."
I told Kerbs that I don't think the cupcake names and term "sweeties" are derogatory, but that they are reductive and not empowering.
The "Seattle Sweeties" marketing campaign also goes beyond the cupcakes. On social media, women are encouraged to post pictures of themselves with the hashtag "whatsyourFLVR." And Draze is about to drop his "Seattle Sweeties" video this week. In the video's casting call, women were asked to submit three photos, with "at least one full body shot and one head shot."