As the nation gears up to celebrate its mothers, brands are eagerly targeting both sexes with messaging intended to encourage consumer spend while also thanking Mom. Much of the messaging for Mother’s Day campaigns is emotional, as in the cases of brands like Hallmark, Pandora, Electrolux and Huggies. But the same can be said of marketing to women overall, although the broader target often includes inspiring and/or empowering messages as well, such recent examples from Dove, Lane Bryant and even Dodge. With all of this emotion and empowerment floating around, we wanted to know what women in the advertising industry actually think about how their peers target the so-called fairer sex and we asked 10 female advertising executives for their takes on advertising to women.
Women demand authenticity and so the brands that want to engage with them must therefore speak genuinely. And perhaps somewhat unexpectedly, the women we spoke to also made repeated calls for marketers to integrate more humor in campaigns for women rather than focusing so much on emotion and worry.
And while acknowledging that male creatives can certainly come up with good campaigns for women, they also noted increased diversity among internal creative teams would also be beneficial for the industry at large.
Their perspectives follow.
Corinna Falusi, Chief Creative Officer at Ogilvy & Mather Advertising New York
While marketers operate in a world with two recognized sexes, consumers on a very personal level identify with different gender identities. For example, Diane Sawyer’s recent interview with Bruce Jenner. That interview made global headlines and we shouldn’t cynically dismiss the moment as just a launch platform for a new reality series. Instead, we should see it as an opportunity to reject our traditional view of gender and how we market it to them.
It’s a different world. I anticipate more brands will seize this opportunity to connect with the transgender community through their creative work. I’m sure we will see more campaigns featuring transgender individuals in the months ahead and I’d be surprised if they don’t do well in next year’s award season.
For brands that only or mostly target women, the most common mistake is lazy depictions of traditional female stereotypes. Women’s interests go beyond just looking pretty and being the best mom in the world.
Marketers need to go beyond these conventions and create campaigns that are more realistic in addressing the challenges women face today. My favorite example was a couple of years ago when a car manufacturer discovered women as a potential target and promoted cars with special feature targeted towards women. They featured a special rear view mirror for applying makeup. Total fail.
On the other hand, the world’s best marketing to women comes from Apple – the biggest and possibly most influential company in the world. They have the benefit of not having a product specifically aimed at women, but their work connects with all audiences.
I really miss humor! I like to laugh and I assume other women do as well. Where are the funny ads aimed at female audiences? I really liked First Moon Party for HelloFlo. This one really stands out for the humor. I must have seen thousands of tampon ads – this is the only one I remember.
With the exception of a few brands, perhaps most notably Nike, Under Armour, Dove, and Similac, working on a female brand is not an award-winning assignment. The brands I mentioned above acknowledge the demands and challenges that all women face every day. We relate to them because it seems like the brand talking to me understands me – it doesn’t assume that we’re like Betty Draper in “Mad Men”.
Tracy Richards, CMO at Organic
One of the biggest things that I look at when it comes to marketing to women is authenticity. That’s a lot of what I’ve seen that is working in the industry. Things like Under Armour with Misty Copeland is a real story, a personal story, and authentic. These are the things that speak to women.
Women are more emotional, but they’re also more social and the social aspect has become interesting…because [campaigns are] getting notice because of women sharing what is speaking to them.
Men tend to be more set in their ways in terms of how they’re spoken to and women are more interested in the new and exciting…but there is also the flip side and it can sometimes have a bit of backlash.
Think about the Pantene campaign, Labels. The ad talks about how men are [bettering themselves], while a woman is considered vain. But it’s one of those things, for a brand like Pantene, they’re selling shampoo, so there can be both positive and negative connotations based on the product you’re trying to promote. The point with Pantene is that the messaging is great – it’s a real story and authentic, but, at the same time, it maybe doesn’t fit with the product.
People want to tug at heartstrings and try to connect and when brands do that in an unauthentic way, it has backlash…Pantene’s sentiment is right, but it’s almost contrived.
More brands and marketers are looking to break through barriers that are out there. The Depends Underwareness campaign takes something that used to be in the background and makes it more normal and OK.
Also, my two-and-a-half-year-old daughter would rather play with trucks than dolls and I think the messaging to young girls and how we’re speaking to girls [is changing] and…marketers are getting better at that and understanding they should put messaging out there, but there’s still a good amount of way to go.
I recently saw an ad for Pandora that was basically a spot showing children blindfolded and able to pick out their mothers, which tugs at the heartstrings and showing those connections, so that did a good job.
And this is kind of a strange one because I think it was meant to be geared more toward men, but Guinness had a wheelchair spot [Friendship], which was showing game of basketball with guys in wheelchairs and then at the end everyone stands up, so it was about friendship and being part of a team and showing support for friends and while the commercial itself was geared toward men, it also…appealed to women, which I think goes back to the authenticity and personal and real stories.
Women tend to be more interested in things that are new and exciting and are far less forgiving and are going to be less likely to go back to it at any given time, so brands have to be careful not to alienate and push off the female audience.
Shaun Stripling, Chief Strategy Officer, Mullen
Smart marketing really shouldn’t differ by design, but rather, always be born of real human insight. Or, good old research. The problems arise when marketers fail to see their “target” as humans.
Women make or inform 80 percent of household purchases today, their decision-making process, path to purchase, use of products, value equation, balance of rational and emotional input are different from men—and are all things that should be explored from her perspective. I’m not saying that male creatives can’t come up with the right solution, but unless they have walked a mile in a woman’s shoes via the product/category, they will typically fail.
For example, we were pitching a sock/hosiery brand and a male creative was insisting on an in-store display piece with a funny line about keeping your toes cozy after a pedicure. Hello? The last thing a woman would do is put on socks after getting a pedicure.
We don’t all drive minivans or Uber our kids to soccer practice while wearing a twin-set and pearls. Ads targeting women often feel like they’re based on stereotypes rather than an authentic insight. They feel forced or like they’re playing to some traditional role women are meant to play, or how others see her rather than really understanding how she sees herself.
Women must be included on the team (in all areas of the process) and really be heard when someone objects to the tone or way a woman is portrayed in an ad. Brands should keep that open dialog going via social media – a direct conduit to their actual consumer that didn’t even exist a few years ago! I mean, where the hell were the female strategists or creatives on the recent Bud Light work? Even if they don’t consider themselves a “female” brand, guess who’s picking up the groceries most of the time?
Try and infuse some honest emotion – whether it’s a tear-jerker or comedic. And read this loud and clear: We like comedy! Who else is reading “Bossy Pants”, “Yes Please”, and “Is Everybody Hanging out Without Me?” We can laugh at ourselves and will willingly support brands that help us find the levity in life. We love a good cry, too, as long as it’s not based in a guilt dialogue.
- The Luvs campaign that compares first baby to second, sort of making fun of mom but based on a real insight that lets her laugh at herself, you know she’s feeling, “Oh yeah, that is SO me!”
- State Farm’s “I’ll never” because it reflects thing we’ve all said or done.
- Similac’s Mommy-wars, because we all try to put our kids first so let’s help each other rather than tear each other down—nice/relevant in the moment message.
- HelloFlo’s First Moon Party: I beg the world of feminine hygiene to take a note from this company!
- And a client: Ulta’s #MyBeautifulMom, [which puts] mom on a pedestal without pandering and it’s born of a monumental human insight.
I don’t want to dwell on those who are getting it wrong, you can think of the usual suspects. But I will mention Schick, which caused a firestorm of [angry] emails — don’t tell us one more thing that we need to worry about. Enough with the shaming!
Karen Bonna-Rainert, Creative Director, R/GA
I’ve worked on several brands that are primarily focused on Moms. I’m often surprised by how brands continue to perpetuate the idea that Mom is responsible for everything that is family-related: getting dinner on the table in 30 minutes after working all day, to finding the right baby soap, all while keeping the house tidy.
While Mom may often be responsible for a lot of family-related tasks, she doesn’t have to be solely responsible for these tasks. When advertisers position Mom as the head of all things home-related, women who don’t want to be solely responsible for these jobs may be turned off by the messaging and think, “That’s not a brand that gets me.”
But, I’m seeing progress.
Last year, Getty launched a new library of images, the Lean In collection. It not only featured girls and women doing things they loved doing, but it also featured the amazing people who support them while doing what they love.
Two images that really stood out to me were the image of a Grandpa braiding a little girl’s hair and another of a Dad walking in the house, holding a baby while a diaper bag slips off his shoulder. We are used to seeing Mom as the star of these images, so it really caught the attention of a lot of women when they saw something different.
Advertisers can reach out to the modern mom by starting to recognize old-fashioned gender roles as a thing of the past and show that household jobs can fall to different family members, especially Dads. Start making ads featuring Dad selecting the perfect chlorine-free diapers or the best organic chicken soup for his family. It will grab the attention of Moms everywhere, while also sending a message that Mom isn’t, and shouldn’t be, the only one capable of making the floor shine.
I love how Nike speaks to women. Nike recognizes women as the powerful, strong, independent individuals they are and shows that working hard – and even getting tripped up sometimes – can lead to great success. I’ve always been a sucker for Nike ads, but they are continually inspiring and present women in a very favorable light.
Suzy Sammons, Brand Director, 180LA
I have been in the advertising agency business since the late 1980s — largely in the automotive marketing world – so I’ve seen some significant improvements in brands creating targeted advertising to women. Across the board, in the last 50 years, treatment of women has improved relative to targeting women.
Automotive ads, alas, still have fairly stereotypical portrayals of women – at every point along the shallow-female spectrum. At their best, they do a good job trying to tap into mom’s desire for a vehicle that’s got safety advancements built into it.
In direct female categories, the bravery and core truths that are elevated in the Always “Like a Girl” and the Dove “Real Beauty” work are big examples of super sophisticated and forward-thinking clients.
I’m an athlete and in our home we raise athletes, so I’m partial to the goals and competitiveness that’s inherent in fitness conversations. Athletic brands have the perfect offering to tap into the strength of women (which we love). Nike gets women. The brand’s “Inner Thoughts” video is pure truth and inspirational expression. Under Armour’s Misty Copeland story is so powerful, and addresses the outside voice of rejection that many of us face.
A brand can participate in cultural conversations as long as they operate from a core truth that is genuinely reflected in their corporate purpose…and shows up in their product offering.
In this discussion, do I need to go down the cheap-drooling-men route? Does anyone think that Victoria Secret ads are for women? So congratulations to Lane Bryant for their Cacique work. And if you’re counting YouTube views, be careful which audience you count as valuable.
Alexandra Fuller, Creative Director, Struck
Marketers get lazy when they market to women. They flatten all women into a two-dimensional stereotype.
Female audiences are incredibly nuanced, yet as creatives when we’re given a brief, the target audience may simply read “women” with no consideration of all of our unique drivers and desires and fears. All female consumers are not harried, 33-year old mothers who are worried about keeping the house clean and their skin free of wrinkles.
Marketers seem to think that the only way to connect with women is through serious business: through their heart strings and their worries. Stop being so serious all the time. Give us some smart, self-aware humor, please!
In terms of advertising that personally resonates with me as a woman, a mom, and a CD, there are several in the funny category: I love VW’s Three Old Wives campaign that lampoons common old wives’ tales about diesel. And Kotex U’s Break the Cycle campaign is irreverent and compelling; it takes direct aim at that old two-dimensional stereotype. And neither manages to foment self-doubt or make fun of capable men.
One of the biggest impediments to more nuanced women-focused advertising is the lack of nuanced creative teams. I don’t mean to imply that men can’t successfully market to women, but the lack of diversity of all kinds among marketers is clearly problematic in creating robust, empathetic brand work that resonates with female audiences. Even as we work to bring more diversity into creative leadership, all marketers can cultivate a more female creative perspective in order to better connect with their diverse audiences.
Monique Nelson, CEO of Uniworld Group
Women and men are different and what activates them is different. For women, it’s much more emotionally driven. They get the facts first and try to assess if it’s a brand they respond to. Men are much more fact- and data-driven and are far less emotional.
There is a difference in terms of how you talk to each and you have to be careful because you can pander to both. Women tend to be stereotypically labeled easily and quickly, so you always want to make sure it is insight-driven and how a use case benefits the person you’re talking to.
I see things for moms that are very specific, targeting young moms or moms with a second child. Huggies and Pampers do a tremendous job of making feeling comfortable and safety of the product is key, so you want to make sure you’re not talking to any woman, you’re talking to mom.
When it comes to cereals and food products, women are making 85 percent of these decisions, so you want to make sure you’re using the right cues, like safety – is it FDA approved? Women are thoughtful about making sure their family is safe, so those triggers are thoughtful.
The brand should always come into account. We pride ourselves on making sure we match soul of the brand with the soul of the consumer. The two of them need to complement each other. If the person is not interested in what the brand has to offer, you’re probably not going to make a good connection. If it’s a use case, that’s what you want to make sure you find. It can change based on the category – mobile phones versus cars versus the Marines – those are different types of people and women in particular that you would talk to differently at a different stage. You have to realize there are different triggers.
You have to talk to women. Most of the time, if you’re screwing up, it’s because you haven’t talked to them. And that’s where, again, there’s so much data out there. People get overwhelmed with how to use it.
It’s about talking to women and being thoughtful. I don’t know if you remember, but cupholders in cars now is because of women. One is not enough because there are kids in the back and they need two in front…those are the types of insights to be thoughtful about.
Harder areas are in fashion and cosmetics. Dove does an amazing job in terms of finding beauty in all women, but the problem still is a lot of the rub is in how women are portrayed and the issue around image and whether representations are proper. You’ve seen what happened in Paris in which they have eliminated emaciated models so young girls don’t aspire to it, but it’s hard in cosmetics, beauty and fashion when it’s about the best portrayal of that and it constantly will be something we struggle with.
There are times when everyone wants to feel pretty and beautiful and we should feel pretty and beautiful, so I think that will be a hard area and we will continue to evolve and talk about what makes the most sense. I applaud the Nikes and the Doves and think we need more balance, so women know this is just a segment and not for everyone.
A lot of mom brands do a good job. [So do] Dove, Nike and Under Armour with the Misty Copeland ads…so, again, your body is your temple and, again, I can’t leave out the fashion brands. Cover Girl is doing a great job with diversity of women…multi-ethnic, size and shape and every woman is beautiful. So, too, with Lane Bryant and the I’m no Angel campaign.
I think if your target is women…and if you’re not connecting with women, it’s probably because you don’t have a strong assessment of how women interact with your brand.
Kristin Kovner, President, K‑Squared Strategies
Many marketers still take a “shrink it and pink it” approach to marketing to women, which doesn’t work. It’s inauthentic and treats women as a monolithic group, with messaging that’s often patronizing. (Think of recent efforts by nine MLB teams to attract women to games with feather boas and wine at special “Ladies’ Nights,” even though reports show some 143 million women attended MLB games last year — more than did NFL, NBA and NHL games combined.)
Today’s best marketers treat women as they are — a large audience that represents many sub-segments and experiences. Marketers must consider age and life stage, as well, when trying to reach women. After all, in many ways, and for many product categories, teenage and millennial women may have more in common with their male counterparts (e.g., a desire for self-expression, authenticity, and co-creation with brands) than they do with significantly older females. And new mothers of any age share more experiences than than they do with their single counterparts, be they 20 or 45. So it can’t just be a gender view or a lifestyle view; it must be a combination of many elements to be effective.
That’s why I particularly I like the Always #LikeAGirl campaigns. They did a beautiful job connecting with women of all ages and experiences by shining a light on the pervasive, often negative, one-size-fits-all messaging presented to and about women. By transcending these negative images, Always reminded women that being part of this expansive, varied group is something to be celebrated.
Denise Blasevick, CEO, the S3 Agency
A female-specific product is, by default, marketed differently – either directly to women, in a way that captures the usage trigger, or to men who might buy it for a woman, in a way that makes them feel they are helping in some way. A product that applies equally to men and women may do so in a psychographically similar way that needs no differentiation – and, in fact, sometimes women don’t want to feel they are being “called out” as different from men in a scenario like this.
When brands talk down to women or act as if they are in a woman’s private circle of friends, it comes across as disingenuous and that’s an enormous turn-off. Recognizing that a brand is not actually a woman’s friend (or anyone’s friend) but, rather, can fulfill a purpose in a woman’s life will yield insights in how to best reach that target market.
Women are busy – we want to know the benefits right up front, don’t make us dig to figure it out. We won’t do it. The second we start feeling frustrated, we’re on to something else.
Starbucks is great at marketing to everyone, including women – yet you don’t hear about their “marketing to women” campaigns. That’s because they integrate that vision into their brand essence in a way that makes women want to go there. The environment feels safe. Varieties are sufficient to allow women to express their individuality. Quality is consistent, and if something is made wrong, women feel welcome to ask to have it corrected. And the brand is constantly introducing little things that surprise and delight, such as the new Frappuccino Cookies that you can see women sharing pictures of on social networks.
GoDaddy is known for their commercials that women hate, but they don’t seem to care. Obnoxiousness is part of their brand, however, and I’d be hard pressed to say that people use the site because of these over-the-top spots with super sexy women. The website experience isn’t in your face the way their TV spots are, however, so for women who can get past that, the site still represents a viable solution.
Kristian May Stewart, SVP Strategy, Analytics & Research, Commonground/MGS
Get personal with her. Today’s modern, Millennial woman places a high value on relationships and brands should take advantage of that by creating content platforms and stories that build connections, are interactive, and yield an experience that creates a personal attachment for her.
Recognize their diversity. Can a brand capture and win with women without driving deep and recognizing that women are not a homogenous group? I don’t think so. Today’s woman plays many different roles, she is fluid and the group is diverse. Brands must take the time to get to define and know who their woman target is to best connect and engage her, for how you win with a Proactive Woman who is also a Mom will be different from winning with a Savvy Single Woman.
What’s your take on how brands speak to women?