As the Mad Men dust finally settles, so do the industry’s self-congratulations on just how far the advertising world has come for women. Interviews with top female ad execs were abound the past few weeks – a collective rejoice that (spoiler alert!) ladies can now be more than just secretaries, doomed to fend off their creative director’s whiskey-induced advances. But of course women in marketing are better off today, as they are in many industries. The real question is, have we as advertisers made any progress in actually marketing to women?
Sadly, the answer is not much. Despite being responsible for 85 percent of all purchases, 91 percent of women still feel advertisers don’t understand them. This is especially troubling given that marketers are trying harder than ever to connect with us gals. Soap makers are exploiting women’s insecurities…tampon brands self-righteously trying to empower us with menstrual products. How can we rise from these #femvertising ashes to make Peggy proud?
People think Mad Men was about advertising, but it was really about characters: real, imperfect and complex individuals just trying to deal with the human experience. If we want to start authentically connecting with women, we need to start treating them not as one-dimensional audience segments, but as real people with dynamic personalities & concerns.
Here are three ways we can redefine marketing by & for women, inspired by the ladies of Mad Men themselves. It will shock you how much #femvertising never happened.
Think beyond beauty and brains. Consider a quick ‘Joan & Peggy’ litmus test to evaluate your strategy – are you characterizing your audience through stereotypes? When Dove focuses only on beauty, they validate the very conventions women are constrained by – whether bookworm or vixen. Go deeper with more nuance & insight into their experience.
Women are people first, moms second. Look inside the screwed-up brain of Betty Draper, and unlock the secret of to modern moms. She has fears & flaws all her own and isn’t just thinking about her kids. Many agency folks don’t think “mom accounts” are sexy, but when you think of them independently from their children, that’s where you uncover opportunity.
Bring female perspective to the process. As marketers, we like to pretend that with the right research, we can put ourselves in any consumer’s shoes. This just isn’t true (ask any woman in a brainstorm with ten male creatives trying to sell control-top panties). Don Draper was a brilliant ad man—and ladies man—but connecting with women was never his strong suit. If we’re ever going to close the understanding gap between brands & women, we need more (and more senior) female thinking in the room, period.
Brands need to treat women not as stereotypes or sidekicks, but as protagonists. Hopefully then, in fifty years when the next advertising drama reflects on the state of the industry, we can truly say women have made progress – both in the workplace, and in the work itself.