Marketing to women? Then stop marketing to women.

Have you noticed something lately? It’s all about equality. The conversations in mass media about equality, gender and gender stereotypes are getting louder and louder. Marriage equality, equal pay, gender equality in sport, the boardroom, Hollywood, and even the police and armed forces. The discussions about equality are constant, and rightly so. But it appears some advertisers are still not taking this on board – only 9% of women feel that marketers are reaching them effectively.

Women are a powerful force. It’s estimated they control over two thirds of global consumer spending and 60% of assets in the US are controlled by women. They are considered the largest “emerging market” in the world, according to Ernst & Young, with their global income projected to grow by $5 trillion to $18 trillion by 2018. So why do some advertisers persist in marketing to women based on their age or motherhood stage?

In today’s modern society, this approach of stereotyping women is out-dated and no longer relevant. Women are demanding more from brands than ever before and brands that keep the following in mind are on the right path to success.

1. Attitude is more defining than age as an indicator of life stage.

These days age really is an attitude. Women are doing all sorts of things at varying stages of life. Some are entering in to motherhood in their 20’s, whilst others are putting it off until their 40’s and in some cases their 50’s. In the UK, more women over 35 are having children than under 35, with an increase in women in their 40’s having children. This is a significant shift from previous decades.

Women are working longer – they’re putting off retirement and working when their mothers and grandmothers would have long retired. Rock legends Stevie Nicks and Chrissy Hynde, both in their 60’s, have just announced a World tour – they’re certainly showing no signs of slowing down, let alone retiring.

A spike in the divorce rate of people over 50 means that they are similar to people in their 20’s in terms of their ‘single and dating’ status.

Women are doing all sorts of things at varying stages of life and gone are the days of predicting their life stage based on their age.

2. Embracing ‘Parenthood’ rather than ‘Motherhood’

Traditionally advertisers have marketed to women based on three segments, all of which are based on motherhood: pre-family, family and post-family. These days, however, motherhood is not the defining factor. Motherhood you could argue, is no longer, rather it’s parenthood. Families now come in many different shapes and sizes and males and females often share the parenting load. 16% of Dads in the US, for example, are stay-at-home Dads.

There’s often the view that after a woman has children she’s no longer career focused and works only for a bit of spending money whilst the kids are at school. But whilst this may be true for some, it is not true for most. With the costs of living sky-rocketing, many women have no choice but to maintain their career once entering motherhood and in many cases they may be the primary bread-winner of the family unit. Many women too maintain their careers for their own sense of identity and fulfilment. And the perception that women experience “baby-brain” once they become mothers is false. Sure, most parents suffer sleep deprivation in the early years but it is not a permanent state of being. In fact, research states that 79% of women agreed that having children made them work in a more productive and focused way.

There may still be ‘busy working mums’ but this is no longer how women define themselves. Women today are leaders. They’re ambitious and assertive. They are providers, as well as nurturers, and so too are men! Yet how often are men defined in advertising by fatherhood? Most women work – 90% in China and over 70% in the UK – it is no longer a defining factor.

Recently a JWT study asked women what was the most important thing in life. More than half nominated being happy as number one – not being a mother, mind you – which was followed by being healthy. This is really significant, as both responses are self-focused. Gone are the days of the “burnt-chop syndrome” where mothers always put themselves last. Women are individuals and it’s time marketing communications spoke to them as such.

3. Gender neutral is the way forward, rather than typical stereotypes

With Facebook now letting users chose from more than 50 gender options, surely it’s time to put gender stereotypes to rest. 70% of men and women are worried their children are watching negative gender stereotypes in advertising, and advertisers should take note. 66% of women switched off films or TV shows if they felt they were negatively stereotyping them. With more Millennials becoming parents they will increasingly challenge this notion and force brands to listen – they have a voice and are not afraid to use it.

It may be time advertisers retired the “busy working mum”. And the vision of mum being solely responsible for the household chores should definitely be long gone. Indeed, in many nations – including Norway, Spain, Finland, Ireland, Germany, India, Italy, South Africa, Canada and France – ads that use gender stereotypes are actively discouraged. The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has pledged to eliminate ads that show women being left with the sole responsibility for cleaning up a family’s mess, for example. Ads where women are expected to look or act a certain way will face more rigorous vetting commencing in 2018 when new rules come into effect.

The Finish dishwashing campaign does this brilliantly. It’s gender-neutral advertising at its best.

A viral post last week about Billabong’s portrayal of males and females left many hot under the collar (refer link below). The post shows an image for the male range of the brand’s clothing of a male surfer surfing but the female range shows a picture of a bikini clad model arching her back whilst sitting on the beach – why was the female not shown surfing also is the question rightly being asked. Brands who represent archaic sexist stereotypes in their advertising can expect considerable and loud consumer backlash.

Some global brands are already putting their money where their mouth is. Recently Unilever announced a partnership with UN Women and several of the largest advertisers and tech companies to eliminate gender stereotypes from advertising. Leading figures from Google, Mars, Facebook, Microsoft, WPP and more will join the UN and Unilever in the industry-led initiative, called The Unstereotype Alliance. It aims to tackle the widespread prevalence of stereotypes that are often reinforced through advertising.

4. Rethink male and female values

Traditionally we have associated femininity with nurturing maternal values, softness and weakness, and that females are better suited to the role of assistant rather than leader. But recent research challenges this: a global study of over 16,000 leaders showed that women are in fact more effective in traditionally male disciplines like engineering and IT, and then excel in values related to leadership, such as innovation, integrity, initiative and being results-driven.

There are about twice as many male characters as females characters shown on screen in ads. And, 25% of ads feature men only on screen compared to 5% of ads that feature women only. Yet women control over 75% of the spending on household products and make or influence 85% of consumer purchases.

In the US there are now more female drivers than males, with the UK, Canada and Australia expected to follow suit. In the UK women make more trips and drive further than men and they are more influential in vehicle buying decisions with women impacting 80% of all vehicle purchases. A lot of the car advertising we see shows men at the wheel, perhaps its time there were more women cast as the drivers.

5. Empowerment is key

Empower women to be their best, as human beings, not as women. Avoid “girl power” and women getting “payback”. These days it’s all about equality. Feminism has evolved in many countries towards equality and away from the feminism of the 80’s where it was more about female power and payback and advertisers need to follow suit, if they’re not already doing so. Insights from J. Walter Thompson’s Female Tribes initiative, found in 2016 that, according to 85% of women, the advertising world needs to catch up with the real world.

Often in sports advertising strong women have been portrayed as aggressive and seeking revenge – it’s an outdated view of feminism. These days sport really should be simply about sport. Yes, there’s men’s cricket and women’s cricket, for example, but think less about gender and focus on the sport.

Gender equality and empowerment of women makes good business sense. According to research from the ANA women make or influence 93% of food purchases and 85% of consumer purchases. If you annoy them, you do so at your brand’s peril.

Cannes Glass Lion Award winner Drog5’s The Equal Pay Back Project for the National Women’s Law Center highlights the issue of pay inequality cleverly using comedy to prove a point. (warning: graphic content)

Why Consumer Research Is Important

Being a woman today is all about being an empowered individual who is treated as an equal. There is no room for gender stereotypes and women can no longer be defined by their motherhood status or their age. Brands that are mindful of this are will achieve greater success when marketing to women. Developing the right products and the right messages are key. Being a brand accepted by women requires tapping into their mindset and gaining their feedback at concept stage. This is why researching your market is so important.

For more information about how we help our clients use consumer research to understand their markets, please give us a call at Insight LED.







Marketing to women: the new rulebook, Rachel Pashley, WARC, May 2016
Lisa Lacy, The Drum, 10 April 2017
Rebecca Stewart, The Drum, 20 June 2017
Tim Beissmann, Car Advice, June 2014
Gender Bias in Advertising, JWT & Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, July 2017


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