Marketers Call for a Reality Check in Female-Targeted Campaigns

Marketing to women is as elusive to some as it is obvious to others. The balance and fine lines between reality and hyperbolic stereotypes are nebulous at best. Countless campaigns targeting women have been caught in the crosshairs of controversy while others make a concerted effort to own positive conversations about the modern-day female.

And so it was earlier this week when marketing executives, creative directors and digital storytellers gathered at the posh Beverly Hills hotel for breakfast and conversation about dos and don'ts of marketing to women. As brands target women in new campaigns they must recognize the “importance of making an emotional connection, but doing it authentically,” Karen Costello, executive vice president and executive creative director at Deutsch LA, says at ThinkLA’s latest event.

Referencing a recent campaign she led for Target, Costello says her team sought to talk to moms about education but through the eyes of children. “We decided to authentically show the joy, hope and optimism of kids and we ended up touching moms, parents and everybody,” she says.

Target and other brands that extensively target mothers have to be careful not to paint too many broad strokes with their message because, of course, no two moms are the same. Costello says she cringes at the notion of the “supermom” that does it all. Dismissing those aspirational messages that feed the supermom stereotype, she prefers ads that reflect reality.

“I think moms would really like to see themselves portrayed as they really are,” says Linda Landers, chief executive of Girlpower Marketing. “It all comes down to listening, listening to who your audience is.”

Patrick O'Neill, executive creative officer at TBWA\CHIAT\DAY, wonders if its best for marketers to just leave moms out of the mix in a sense. “Sometimes it’s better not to portray mom… Avoid it, that’s what I say,” he says. “I think we’ve moved on from showing a product demo in a kitchen.”

Marketers can learn more about the women they’re trying to reach on social media as they freely share their interests, activities and whatever else strikes a chord. But what motivates women to share so much about themselves, and often more than men do so, online?

“It’s word of mouth with a megaphone now,” says Landers. “They want to continue to be a part of their community… It’s not like the 1950s where you had a neighborhood and your family was in a five-block radius. People don’t live like that now, so this is their community.”

If women are so important to marketers, the panelists were asked, then why do they comprise just 3 percent of all creative directors in the industry? There are many reasons why women are dropping out of creative departments before they can climb to the top, says Costello. It can be something as simple as leaving the workforce to start a family, or the more troubling overt and covert sexism that follows women throughout the industry, she adds.

“I still find it shocking that the numbers are as low as it’s been since I started in the industry,” says O'Neill. “Yes, it’s important to have more women in powerful decisions… but until that happens we’re working really hard at my agency to build that next generation all the time.”

Landers shares those concerns, but as someone who works in PR, she says: “We don’t have that problem. We have like 3 percent men.”

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