There are a lot of similarities between Hollywood and the advertising industry. Both are largely run by men. Both feature atrocious portrayals of women, or don't portray women at all. Both try to play on women's insecurities. The Advertising industry is especially guilty of this.
I hear many advertisers saying, "But that's what sells products."
But there is another way, a better way, a more powerful way, to sell products to women. A way that will resonate with her so deeply she will switch brands, be your biggest fan, and spread your message to her friends and family as well.
I saw this "better way" in action at the Athena Film Festival in New York. The festival featured films by women, and about women. The theme of the festival was, "Women and Leadership." Here are the lessons I took away about marketing to women.
Marketing to Women Lesson #1
You will have a better product/commercial/campaign if women are included at every level of the creation process.
I subscribe to all the movie channels. Yet on any given night, I'm hard pressed to find even one movie I actually want to watch. At the Athena Film Festival, I wanted to see every single movie. All the ones I did see were superb. Why did I enjoy them so much? For many reasons, but one of the big reasons, I'm sure, is that the films featured women telling women's stories.
How powerful is that concept? Look no further than Oprah for proof. Her new network, OWN, features a show - Season 25 - Oprah Behind the Scenes We get to see a behind the scenes look at how the show is put together. Oprah is surrounded by a team of smart, strong, women. I don't know if there's any other show on television with so many women running it. The results? Arguably one of the most successful shows of all time.
Marketing to Women Lesson #2
Include positive, non-stereotypical images of women in your commercials.
There are very few products women don't buy, so their needs, preferences, images should be included, at least in part, in the majority of advertising campaigns. Yet this is not the case. When women are included in spots, they are usually not portrayed as strong central characters. And stereotypes abound.
This problem is even worse in Hollywood, as proved by the Bechdel Test.
I have created a similar test for the advertising industry. See if your marketing campaigns pass The Buchanan Test - ask these three questions about your ad:
- Does it feature a woman/women outside of the home
- Is she playing a role other than a mom
- Is she NOT doing yoga
I'll have more on this in coming posts, but seriously - do this test on your ads. Here's a typical example of an ad that fails the test.
Guys get to have exciting active lives. Women - we'll take care of the kids and do a little yoga - that's our idea of active and adventurous.
Marketing to Women Lesson #3
These negative images/messages and stereotypes are harming your daughters.
They're actually harmful to all women, and men for that matter. We are surrounded by media, inundated with it - several thousands images a day by some reports. It is naive and dangerous to assume all those images and messages do not have an impact.
And it is our daughters I worry about the most. In this 24/7 media world, the effects can be devastating, especially during their formative, vulnerabale years. Here's an excerpt from one of the most powerful movies at the Athena Film Festival - Miss Representation.
How severe is the impact? Look at the stats here. or just look at the statistics on depression:
- Rates of depression among women and young girls have doubled in the past ten years.
- Rates of depression are the same among boys and girls until puberty, but twice as many women are diagnosed as depressed post-puberty.
"You can't be what you can't see"
This was the simple most powerful message I took away from the film festival. It is the slogan of The White House Project which aims to bring more women into politics and leadership positions. But this problem goes way beyond politics.
Who are the female role models? Where are the portrayals of women that make us go, "Wow, I want to be her." NOT Because she has a size 0 body, but because she emodies a quality we admire and want to emulate.
We owe our daugthers and our sons more positive portrayals of what it means to be a woman.
A Better Way
I promised you I'd share a better way. Here it is.
- Portray a woman outside of the home
- Portray her in a role other than mother OR as doing something that makes her kids proud. (this does NOT mean getting rid of a stain in their favorite T-shirt or serving an afternoon snack)
- Portray her doing an activity other than yoga
I want to be clear that I'm not anti-mom, I'm simply promoting that motherhood has more dimensions than what we typically see. Here's an example of a commercial that understands "the better way" by Carnival Cruise Lines. Yes, she is a mom, but she is not "serving" anyone. She gains her kids respect by "catching air:" Here is a mom letting her true-self shine,and her family loves it.
Here's another example from Ameriprise Financial. It features women who are real financial professionals. How many commercials do you see with women who are professionals? Not necessarily moms, not sitting in their homes, and NOT doing yoga.
We all need to be more aware of the images we create and the message we send. I want to make a pact with you that we will all do a better job of creating content/media/advertising that we are proud of - that we would want our daughters and our sons to see.
Not only is it the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do. The "better way" ads stand out. They tap into deep emotional centers that other advertisers are missing. They make us not only want your brand, but genuinely love it.
And that is the holy grail of advertising.
One final film recommendation. Go see Desert Flower. It was insighful, inspiring, heartbreaking, laugh-out loud funny, and one scene was so gut-wrenching I couldn't breathe for 15 minutes aftewards. Go see it. It will change your life. (This is Acadamy Award material).