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Marketers of every gender are facing some cold, hard facts about the growing purchasing power of women. According to a recent study by Boston Consulting Group:
So why does television’s advertising culture on shows from Bewitched to Bosom Buddies to Thirty Something, Mad Men and now, CBS’ The Crazy Ones, make us cringe and drop our jaws at the absurdity of ad men trying like heck to understand women – the ultimate consumers?
Premiering in the new television season, The Crazy Ones, starring Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar play a father/daughter ad agency team trying desperately to keep their long-standing client, McDonald’s, from jumping ship. A characteristically manic pitch by Williams throws pop singer Kelly Clarkson into the mix as the agency team cajoles the pop star to perform an update of the jingle, “You Deserve a Break Today.” Clarkson, competing with singing sexpots worldwide, says she’ll only do the job if she can “get sexy” with it – and the wackiness ensues.
Played strictly for laughs, it’s not that far off from today’s reality. In fact, the show’s consultant and executive producer is Leo Burnett’s executive creative director, John Montgomery, and McDonald’s is their biggest client. But the thing that stands out about Kelly Clarkson’s pretend ambition to be perceived as sexy, is how much the pendulum seems to have swung in to the extreme opposite dimension when it comes to how women were once portrayed in advertising.
Flip the channel to AMC, and there you’ll be faced with the challenges women faced in the 60’s on the popular Mad Men series. Fictional advertising agency, Sterling Cooper, is populated with budding female professionals, clawing their way out of the secretarial pool into executive roles, which seem to always be on shaky ground. The show dramatizes the origins of the difficulty these mad men had back then, marketing products exclusively to women. In the case of one lipstick campaign, “Mark Your Man,” became a winning headline because the male management of the agency believed it portrayed a woman “being in control.” Interestingly, that era was rife with ads aimed at women that revolved around the men in their lives.
Some even argue that the advertising of 50’s and 60’s created the backlash that inspired feminism itself. Today, this topic could become a spirited boardroom discussion, but, according to researchers and women’s marketing gurus, even considering gender differences in communications is seen as a negative.
Bridget Brennan, who wrote a recent book on the topic entitled, Why She Buys, asserts that political correctness has stifled any frank discussion on the subject of gender differences and their relation to advertising messaging. “Over the past few decades, women have worked so hard to prove they’re equal, they’re often hesitant to point out that they’re different – just in case they’re viewed as lesser or weaker. Men, on the other hand, fear being viewed as politically incorrect for even discussing it.” All this, she says, at a time when scientific research relating to brain differences clearly demonstrate that we are hardwired to react to business messages in differing ways.
Whether you believe it or don’t, there are certainly plenty of other solid business reasons to communicate more effectively with female consumers. Brennan points out some key demographic trends contributing to an increase empowered female consumers. Women are now more educated and more present in the workplace. They are delaying marriages to pursue careers, having fewer children, divorcing (two-thirds more women initiate) and, as they age, are amassing wealth from their own careers, their husband’s career and multiple inheritances.
So, as advertising continues to spark conversation about how popular culture and commerce connect, television series about the business add some fun to the mix. With that in mind, take a little stroll down memory lane with us for some shockingly retro ads, remembering how far we’ve come, but acknowledging that both the men and women of marketing have much to learn about marketing to women.
Brought to you by Vertical Marketing Network, a Leading Integrated Marketing Agency.