Marketing to Women: Three Big Mistakes Brands Can't Afford to Make

1993 Is Calling, It Wants Its Ads Back

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It's 2013. But if you spend any time reviewing advertising and marketing initiatives aimed at women, you could think it's 1993. So many marketers are still missing the mark when it comes to creating authentic and meaningful relationships with them.

The first step toward better and more effective marketing to women is to avoid the three most common mistakes being made today.

Trying to connect by being "relatable." This is the idea that, "We need to demonstrate that we understand her and her needs." It's not a bad goal, but too often it leads to advertising that depicts women in stereotypical situations, with stereotypical dialog that ends up feeling disingenuous and even insulting -- the opposite of the intended effect.

Women are smart, capable and multi-dimensional; marketers need to stop focusing on relating and strive instead to become relevant and interesting. A good example is Ragu, which took a very different approach for its Long Day of Childhood campaign. The work puts the spotlight on the trials and tribulations of childhood -- a boy finding his parents making love, for example -- creating a refreshing and entertaining twist on packaged-goods advertising.

Taking things so seriously. The first word on a creative brief for a product targeting men often is "funny." Yet with women, brand marketers too often believe that women's needs are serious business -- and that the only way to connect with them is through serious communications.

The blockbuster success of the movie "Bridesmaids" demonstrated the pent-up demand for female-driven comedy. Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig have paved the way in the entertainment world, but only a handful of brands have brought the 'funny' to marketing. And even fewer have been successfully funny without either making fun of incapable men or objectifying sexy men. Both the U by Kotex and the Toyota Swagger Wagon campaigns bring brilliantly smart, self-aware humor with women to the forefront.

Creating doubt to create demand. When trying to create demand around a product, the formula is often the same: point out the viewer's fears and insecurities, then introduce the product as the hero arriving to save her. While creating doubt may be a powerful lever to drive behavior, portraying women as inadequate is a huge mistake.

Of course, nobody's perfect (supermom is so passé). But the bigger opportunity is to place the emphasis on the positive and build women up. Give women the power to accept who they are, celebrate their strengths and push them to be even better. The What's Beautiful campaign from Under Armour demonstrates this in spades. In nearly four years, the campaign drove the brand perception level to its highest with women ages 18-34.

Kellogg's changed the game for the weight loss industry with its What Will You Gain When You Lose campaign for Special K. By turning depravation on its head, the brand created positive momentum -- gaining 400,000 new Facebook fans and increasing market share to its highest level in history.

The role of women in society and popular culture has changed, and continues to change, dramatically. Marketers need to stop making these common mistakes before 1993 calls and says, "I want my ads back."

Erin Keeley is Strategic Planning Director at Mono.
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