Marketing to women as an independent practice first reared its head about 10 years ago. Since then, numerous books have been written, conferences held, companies launched, and millions of women interviewed to discover “what they really want.”
But has anything actually changed? A number of commercials I have seen recently that are targeted at women lead me to believe that we haven’t moved very far forward. Indeed, a 2012 review of marketing to women statistics by MediaPost indicated that as many as 91 percent of women think that marketers and advertisers don’t understand them. Clearly, a disconnect exists between how women are portrayed be advertisers and marketers and how women see themselves.
In fact, marketers continue to portray women predominantly as stay-at-home mothers who are happily taking care of the home for their kids and husbands. However, according to Pew Research, stereotypical roles just don’t seem very realistic anymore. With 83 percent of women and 65 percent of men saying they spend some time every week cleaning the house, gender roles definitely have started to blur. However, this is almost never reflected in the way marketers talk to women about their products or brands. When I have asked marketers about why they are disinclined to portray men doing housework or looking after their offspring in commercials, the response I usually get is that since women are responsible for more than 85 percent of household purchases–and probably more when it comes to basics like groceries and household cleaners–they are still the primary target.
In addition, according to Pew, 31 percent of mothers say that they want to work outside of the home when they have children, and 62 percent of women say they would like to work part-time. Add to that the fact that in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor, the actual number of women with children under the age of 18 who were in the labor force was 70.9 percent, and we start to realize that the way brands and products are positioned to women is increasingly missing the mark.
What do I mean by that? Let me use household cleaning products as an example. Superior cleaning is the primary benefit that the products offer their audience (usually women). However, let’s go beyond that to today’s reality in which most brands offer an additional lifestyle benefit by using the brand. When it comes to household cleaning products, this lifestyle benefit is usually characterized as either being a better mom or having more time to relax and enjoy life. But these lifestyle messages seem far removed from the lives of those 70.9 percent of women who are juggling work and life.
So how can brands more effectively position themselves from a lifestyle perspective to more closely reflects their real physical and emotional needs? Perhaps the easy-cleaning idea could be put into the context of moms getting to bed earlier, or making it easier for dads to help with the household chores so moms can spend time with the kids after a long day at work. Perhaps a food product that is focused on after-school snacks could show how easy it is for dads to warm a few of these yummy treats and pop them into a knapsack on the way to soccer practice.
This new slant on marketing to women isn’t about exclusively showing women sitting at the table with men in the boardroom (which, of course, they already do), but more about positioning brands as offering life-enhancing benefits that are in synch with the craziness of their everyday lives and the reality that chores have to be shared or they'll never get done. We all still want homes that are spotlessly clean and snacks that are equally easy to prepare and nutritious. But we also want marketers to sell them to us in a way that reflects our “house lives,” which involves every family member, not just the women.