Marti Barletta: Maddened by 'Mad Men'

Decades Later, Marketers Are Finally Coming to Understand Women's Buying Power

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Marti Barletta
Marti Barletta
The media and ad industry have been all abuzz about AMC's "Mad Men," which started its second season this past Sunday. Critics adore it, millions watch it and apparently the ad industry worships it. According to The New York Times, the series has inspired commercials, designer fashions, department-store window displays, cigarette lighters, CDs and calendars -- even a mock issue of this very publication, Advertising Age.

I get it. "Mad Men" is glamorous, it romanticizes our harried and hassled industry, and it lets us indulge our nostalgia for the Wild West pioneer days of the ad biz. Ah, yes -- there were the three-martini lunches, the client boondoggles, the all-night benders after the annual budget meeting. There were no casual Fridays; the sharp-looking suits you see on TV were how all the dapper Don Drapers dressed. Men were in charge and women were in pursuit. The married ones were mild-mannered housewives, some desperate, some not. The working girls were cute dollybirds willing to do anything to catch a rich husband. Good times if you were a guy in the business; not so much if you were a gal.

I caught one of the recent reruns from the first season, and, just to stay current, tried to watch it all the way through. What raised the bile in the back of my throat was when the ad guys stumbled across the eternal question "What do women want?" and the flippant reply was "Who cares?" I don't know about Leo Burnett or J. Walter Thompson, but ad legend David Ogilvy rolled in his grave at that moment. Here's a guy who showed he understood what side his bread was buttered on when he said, "The consumer isn't a moron; she is your wife."

Until two or three years ago, women as consumers were still thought of as a niche market. When my first book, "Marketing to Women," was published in 2003, I'd get invited to speak at corporations by their emerging-markets teams -- those poor souls charged with influencing 84% of the population (blacks, Hispanics, Asians and now women) with 5% of the budget. They brought me in to explain to their management that women are not an "emerging" market. At 51% of the population, they're actually the majority market and make fully 80% of consumer spending decisions. If that's "emerging," it's a little like seeing the whale in the water once it's breached and splashed down. I guess it's because management was manning the helm instead of the sonar station.

No more. Today, marketing to women has gone mainstream. The art and science of female persuasion is being adopted (belatedly) by the big guns in the marketing industry. In just the last six months, with much fanfare to convey the thrill of discovery, three major firms have announced new, women-focused capabilities designed to help their clients win women, who have been buying most of their products, in almost every category, for some time:
  • G23, Omnicom's new strategic consultancy, will consist of senior female communications leaders representing every marketing discipline.
  • Womenkind, the New York-based brainchild of former Lowe Worldwide CEO Jerry Judge, will use a stable of female freelancers to create ads and a network of women "muses" for inspiration and reality checks.
  • Boston Consulting Group is recruiting 25,000 women for a survey aimed at creating a comprehensive understanding of the needs of women worldwide. Findings will be released in a book (supposedly to be written by a man) titled "What Women Want." It's about time someone answered that question.
So the men are getting into the mix, which I consider to be an excellent sign. It means credibility, believe it or not. Anyone who has heard Tom Peters speak, or read our co-authored book "Trends," will be familiar with his incredulous stories about top-level women approaching him to take the "women's opportunity" to the board because as a man, he was more likely to be believed.
Marti Barletta is a recognized thought leader on marketing to women and author of "PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds and Business of Boomer Big Spenders." She is also author of "Marketing to Women," CEO of The TrendSight Group, a think tank specializing in marketing to women, and a founding member of the Women Gurus Network.

And credibility, in turn, means real budgets, which means strategically integrated and executed campaigns, instead of tentative little "pilot" programs. Now that the big dogs are here, we should see a transformation from the idea that women are an add-on option to the recognition that women are the main market and mean business.

So I applaud the men, and the major firms, who have jumped on the marketing-to-women bandwagon. We've come a long way, baby, from the Mad Men of yesteryear. The mysterious appeal of the series notwithstanding, clearly these are not the good ol' boys longing for the good ol' days. These are smart, sophisticated marketers, male and female, who know a big business opportunity when they see it. They've seen that the female consumer is overlooked, underserved and tired of marketers who say, "Who cares?"

It's not a "Mad Men" world out there, thank heavens. Companies who continue to think it is will find themselves with a bunch of really mad women to contend with. Companies that know better can treat themselves to lunch. I'll just have an iced tea, please.
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