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Marketing to Women

Marketing to Women

It’s easy to point to campaigns like Dove’s #likeagirl and Nike’s #betterforit and celebrate progress in marketing to women.

But according to a survey by Greenfield Online, 91 percent of women still feel misunderstood by marketers. And this is, of course, an enormous miss, given that women drive a full 70-80% of all consumer purchasing and are expected to control $22 trillion of personal wealth in the United States by 2020.

Though no brand aims to enrage this very powerful segment of the population, it does seem that for every one #likeagirl campaign, there are a handful of Bic for Hers.

No doubt, these misguided campaigns are created with good intentions. But hidden biases, rooted in decades of gender stereotypes, can quickly transform those good intentions into poor executions.

After reviewing some good, bad, and utterly cringe-worthy campaigns, we’ve outlined some best practices to help craft communications that target women. May they help you connect with this powerful consumer group more productively.

Don’t perpetuate stereotypes. Do challenge them.

Though gender stereotypes have been around for decades, it doesn’t mean they’re true. Marketers must rigorously vet ideas for underlying biases about what women can or should do and challenge them when appropriate.

To promote its new washers and dryers, for example, Kenmore created an interactive laundry center at a women’s muddy 5K race. Though the activation’s placement at a mud run seemed fitting, the fact that Kenmore chose a women-only event subtly reinforced the outdated gender stereotype that women are in charge of the laundry. Why not do it at a coed race?

In terms of doing it right, after appearing in an ad for her company that received numerous sexist comments, engineer Isis Wenger started the #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign. The campaign aims to spark conversations about technology’s gender imbalance by “inviting engineers to join her in challenging what engineers can or should look like by sharing their stories on social media.”

Don’t generalize. Do celebrate diversity.

Far too often, marketers group women into one large female demographic, talking to us as though we all share the same interests, goals, and ideals.

Last fall, the new Seat Mii by Cosmopolitan was launched as a car for women. And it stirred a lot of backlash. The small purple car features “eyeliner” headlight bezels and champagne-finished mirrors and is “easy to park and drive.” Though the brand claims the car was intended specifically for the “Cosmo woman,” most of the messaging speaks of women in general, assuming we’re all about make-up and bubbly — and that we’re less-than-stellar drivers.

On the other hand, Sport Scotland’s “This Girl Can” campaign recognized that the fears that hold women back from participating in sport weren’t all the same — they ranged from concerns about their appearance or ability to the fact that they’d be spending time on themselves, instead of their families. The campaign also used real women, not athletes or models, to celebrate active women of all ages “doing their thing” no matter how well they do it or how they look.

A survey by SheKnows revealed that “71% of women believe brands should be held responsible for using their ads to promote positive messages to women and girls.” Sport Scotland did just that.  

Don’t caveat equality. Do empower it.

Communications that seek to empower women are as effective as they are powerful. According to Adweek, “women ages 18 to 34 are twice as likely to think highly of a brand that made an empowering ad.” And yet, far too often, campaigns that seek to encourage equality feature a subtle yet demeaning caveat: a note that “even a girl” can do it.

IBM’s #HackAHairDryer campaign aimed to promote women’s involvement in STEM careers, calling for women to hack their hairdryers. But instead of the message IBM hoped to relay, consumer felt the campaign undermined the capabilities and contributions of women in tech, belittling them to DIY-like projects with a hairdryer instead of more complicated, non-gendered, tasks.

Some of the most empowering messages, on the other hand, are those that refuse to separate genders in the first place. When Cartoon Network reintroduced the Powerpuff Girls, they did so with the Powfactor campaign. Though the cartoon features three girls, the campaign encourages both girls and boys to use what makes them unique to change the world.

Audiences today don’t care if poor messaging was well intended, accidental, or simply ignorant. It’s no longer deemed progressive to get this right; it’s essential.

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