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What the Women’s March can teach advertisers

I was talking to some friends the other night and the issue of the global women’s march came up, a subject which the mostly male group had largely ignored. I have to say this bothered me; it was pretty inspirational to watch because of what it represented.

Let’s just think about this; two million people coordinated across the planet to protest bigotry and celebrate life. Would an all-male group have done the same? Let’s be honest, would they have done anything at all? I mean, there could have been sport on the telly, a new Playstation game could have been out or the fishing might have been particularly good at that moment. If you are thinking to yourself “That’s a bit harsh.” Is it? Really? Media types such as Piers Morgan (AKA Trump puppet) called them ‘Feminazis’. The American congress called for Madonna to be arrested and the blood pressure of middle-aged white men everywhere was boiling on their well-worn sofas.

Whether we like it or not, the media has conditioned us into sexually stereotyping women in this male-dominated industry and advertising has been the worst offender. This is a macro problem that Nicki Minaj sums up eloquently: “When I am assertive, I am a bitch. When a man is assertive, he’s a boss.”

Looking at men and women respectively in terms of their consumer behavior we all know know that women make the majority of ‘the household purchase decisions’, but this is massively misleading. It means a whole heap more than simply ‘doing the weekly shop’.

Running the home means proactively knowing what is needed, both in the short and long term. Women, to this end, make many more selfless decisions by definition than men. This economic independence expands further when we can speculate that the majority of women will also be the finance director of the family unit, paying the bills, credit cards and also deciding when the bigger purchase can or should be made. Taking this further, they are responsible for the health and wellbeing of everyone around them; they invariably come last. Now wouldn’t that change your worldview boys? (Clue: this is an advertising insight).

Men on the other hand tend to be more self-centered. Yes, they do make household purchase decisions but simply buying a bigger TV does not immediately make you a ‘giver’ on the emotional sharing table.

What is a more realistic way to approach this topic? Adage recently reported that women actually make nine out of ten purchasing decisions overall. At the same time a whopping 91 percent of respondents felt that marketers didn’t get them.

These stats get more acute when we see that neuroscience-based testing shows that overall, women have higher engagements with advertising than men. “An analysis of the past two years of Superbowl ads showed that even though most ads are gender neutral, they perform 35 percent better with women. What was more interesting was that ads that were created with women in mind were more effective at engaging men. This suggests that in developing ad campaigns, companies should have women front of mind. (Thanks to Anne Rayner at TNS for this research).

So what is the answer here? There are lots of ways to answer this but it may be worth revisiting what some of the two million people said when they were protesting. Yes, they were against the blonde-wigged exhibitionist (not Madonna, The President), but mostly they were getting together en masse to remind us to celebrate life in all its diversity. Many then said at first they were angry, but then they were inspired to do something. It was a shared passion for equality, opportunity and dignity for all (there’s the selfless thinking again). The feeling was of optimism and a better future. None of this is remotely gender stereotyping and we can learn a lot.

Unilever has been working hard at how the company can deliver an ‘unstereotyping’ agenda. They look at three key areas: roles, personality and appearance. Let’s make sure none of these are stereotypes.

To that end, it’s probably time we brought an end to clips of women getting really excited about removing stains, washing the dishes or vacuuming the floor. No one gets excited about any of those things; not even the presenters on Kiwi Living.                

The answer is not necessarily having advertising that is negative to women; most products will fail here. The solution is more nuanced. Give the ad an air of positivity, let everyone have a role irrespective of gender – the product isn’t necessarily for either sex but for a better experience of life. But if you appeal to the better, more progressive part of human nature, you will capture a female audience. 

Let’s get away from the old rules and look to the better day that the people marching are already living. Only thing is, you probably have two 20 something creative guys who live on Playstation and are bathing in lager writing your ad campaign right now. So do you think you will get a different result?

Dean Taylor is managing director of Contagion.
This story first appeared at StopPress.
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