In Prague, Àarka Tomkov , a 27-year-old newspaper advertising representative, prides herself on never buying products based solely on TV commercials.
While in Spain, Elena Ruiz, 33, price shops for equipment for her freelance writing business as well as household products. For cleaning aids, she looks only for the cheapest and easiest products, choosing a compact detergent because it works for whites and colors, in hot and cold water, is easy to carry home and doesn't take up much space, but unconcerned with the brand.
Perhaps never before have marketers trying to reach women worldwide felt so unsure about what women want and need. Thirty years ago, even 15 years ago, it was fairly easy. Most women did not work outside the home, and advertising featured them worrying about spotless dishes and clean floors.
Factors such as working in the paid labor force and bearing fewer children are having an impact worldwide. Trends such as greater access to healthcare and better education are expected to accelerate as more women fight for gender equality and more control over their lives. This was highlighted at last month's International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, where 15,000 people gathered to address key issues affecting women.
Research in Australia shows that only about 7% of families fit the "traditional" mold of a dad working, mom at home and several children.
"We're seeing an increasing number of women playing more prominent roles in Spanish-speaking society," says Ramon Pineda, director of advertising sales, GEMS Television, a Spanish-language cable channel specializing in programming aimed at women in the U.S. and Latin America.
Not so very long ago, Japanese women believed any product with a high price tag was good and showed a preference for brand names. But now they are avid bargain-hunters.
The change in buying patterns was brought about by the prolonged recession, but marketing executives believe the trend will outlive the hard times.
According to research conducted early this year by Leo Burnett-Kyodo, Tokyo, Japanese women today are looking for "quality performance" and meaningful items "that represent individual taste."
Recent advertising for Daiei Inc., one of Japan's largest supermarket chains, focuses on women's interest in the best prices for quality merchandise. Daiei uses TV to feature products while a voice-over emphasizes quality at low prices. The ads, tagged "Everyday low prices," run prior to special sale days.
Even though many young career women in Japan are having difficulty finding jobs, a Tokyo real estate firm, Human Estate Inc., has found a new classified advertising market: professional women in their late 20s and early 30s seeking to buy their own apartments.
Formulaic images of women rarely strike a chord with female consumers in the Czech Republic.
Commercials for consumer products, notably Procter & Gamble's ads for detergents like Vizir, handled by Grey Advertising, Prague, often portray women in highly idealized domestic settings, with immaculate kitchens and, apparently, little to do other than perform domestic chores.
In reality, while Czech women have more money and more demanding jobs than they did before communism died in 1989, they have far less buying power and much less time and the same domestic chores.
Ms. Tomkov , the Prague newspaper advertising representative, said she finds the domestic visions portrayed in most consumer product advertising unconnected with her own life. "I never buy products based on those commercials," she says. Price and quality are the determining factors for her household product purchases.
Marketers in Spain are trying to seize opportunities offered by women's rapidly changed role. They go out at night without men as escorts and take an active role in politics, uncommon not that long ago.
With little time now for such things as traditional home-cooked meals, home food delivery is a growth industry, starting from practically nothing five years ago. One pioneer, TelePizza (see related story on Page I-23), started up in 1988 and became the market leader of home delivery pizza with sales in 1993 of $55 million. Holding more than 40% of the home delivery pizza market, Tele-Pizza far outsells No. 2 Pizza Hut, with a 20% share.
TelePizza, noting that convenience is obvious, has focused its message on quality in TV and radio spots and distributes menus door to door, carrying the slogan, "The secret is in the dough." Advertising is handled in-house.
Campofrio, a leading Spanish food marketer, introduced Cocina Placer microwavable entrees with the theme, "Let Roteta cook." Roteta is a well-known Basque chef, involved in creating the dishes and endorsing the Cocina Placer line in advertising. The idea behind the campaign, created by RZR, Madrid, is that since the preparation is done by Roteta, Mom's kitchen chores are simplified.
A recent Nissan Micra commercial by TBWA shows a woman driving through city streets. She's "young, dynamic, in her 20s, independent," says Joan Grau, director general, TBWA, Barcelona.
When competitor General Motors Espa¤a introduced the Opel Corsa, the company made special presentations to groups of female journalists and placed prominent multi-page spreads created by McCann-Erickson, Madrid, in women's magazines such as Vogue and Cosmopolitan. The ads imitated a fashion layout, showing the story of a woman going through her day, wearing different clothes and using her Opel Corsa.
The car was the fifth best selling vehicle in Spain in 1993, with the highest proportion of female buyers of any Opel brand, 46%, the company claims. Opel's Astra hatchback, the GM model with the second highest percentage of women buyers at 30%, was the top selling car in Spain last year.
Meanwhile, in South Africa, corporations are developing affirmative action policies that often benefit black women more than other population groups.
As part of the elections that swept Nelson Mandela to power as the country's first black president, women now comprise 25% of the 400 member multi-racial National Assembly, and increasing numbers of women, especially married black women, are entering the workforce.
By the year 2011, women will comprise 42.3% of the labor force, up from 38.6% in 1991 and 21.1% in 1980, according to the Bureau for Market Research at the University of South Africa, Pretoria.
The rising influence of women in South Africa is felt directly at the retail level. Convenience foods are snatched up quickly. "Women...are much busier than they used to be," notes Terry Brewis, a marketing executive with Woolworths Ltd., Capetown.
While the majority of South African advertising still depicts women, black and white, in the home, more and more ads are highlighting opportunities for women to improve their social and economic status. A page magazine ad for Caltex gas stations shows a young black woman in coveralls and safety glasses welding machinery. The ad, which does not directly promote gasoline, instead describes Caltex's training and job creation programs for young people, and its commitment to a "hardworking, productive South Africa." The spots are by McCann-Erickson, Johannesburg.
Ads that promote household products are adding new twists. In the recent TV campaign introducing Lever Bros.' Sunlight Micro dishwashing liquid, a beautiful white woman clad in a strappy evening dress walks into the kitchen and hands dirty dishes from a dinner party not to a black domestic servant but a gold-colored male robot.
"Sorry these are a bit greasy, Arthur," she purrs, then informs him Sunlight will make his job easier. The spot, by Bernstein, Loxton, Golding & Klein, Johannesburg, used the robot concept in response both to "the high tech nature of the product" and, perhaps more tellingly, images of the housewife "in a traditional role" did not test well, says Espen Mansfeldt, Lever Bros. marketing director.
For women today, economic and educational opportunities are opening doors that few could foresee even a decade ago.
The message to advertisers, as voiced by Àarka Tomkov of the Czech Republic and Elena Ruiz of Spain, is clear. These young women already ignore advertising that they find unimportant to their lifestyles, choosing instead to purchase goods from companies that more accurately reflect who they are today. But chances are, what works for Ms. Tomkov may not appeal to Ms. Ruiz or Ms. Ntwatwa, challenging marketers to keep pace with not one but many emerging atittudes and needs of today's women.
Written and reported by Laurie Freeman with contributions from Susan Hack, Deborah Klosky, Geoffrey Lee Martin, Ann Marsh and Jack Russell.