But until recently, marketers have largely aimed messages at women only in product categories deemed feminine, such as fashion, feminine hygiene and frozen foods. Now, however, advertisers in traditionally male categories, from automobiles to technology to home repair are taking a new look at women-and with good reason.
A flurry of data indicates women have a stronger grip than ever before on the nation's pocketbooks, controlling some 60% of all U.S. wealth and influencing more than 80% of all purchases.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a full 25% of women are bringing home a bigger paycheck than their husbands, up from 17% a decade ago.
"Women are opportunity No. 1," business guru Tom Peters writes in his upcoming book, "The Circle of Innovation."
'BIG TIME' ATTRACTION
"Big time" is how Jeff Goodby, principal of Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, San Francisco, assessed marketers' new attraction to women.
"Things are changing fast," he added. Goodby client Porsche Cars North America, for example, has "taken a lot of the machoness" out of some of its advertising.
This is a recognition, Mr. Goodby said, that almost one-third of Porsche's customers for its Boxter and 911 models are women, up from just 3% for the 911 a few years ago.
Instead of locker-room style jokes about speed and testosterone driven headlines such as "Kills bugs fast," Porsche's new ad images show a car en route to a country bed and breakfast.
ECHO BOOM'S EFFECT
Among the reasons for the change is that echo boom women, the children of the baby boomers, grew up after legislation requiring equal athletic facilities for both sexes, Mr. Goodby said, and they have a more gender-neutral view of themselves and the world.
Goodby also is the new shop for Nike's women's products. Soon-to-run ads have not only dropped the "empowerment" theme of previous Nike work in the category but have begun to debunk it.
"You are a nurturer and a provider. You are beautiful and exotic," reads the copy on the left side of one spread ad. "You are not falling for any of this," reads the copy on the opposite page, which details the new Nike Air Mezmerite shoe.
The spread will appear in December issues of women's lifestyle and sports magazines.
Nike, with a goal of boosting its women's business to 40% of sales by 2002, is making a more concerted effort to court women, moving away from merely nipping and tucking at men's styles to develop clothing specifically for women. Its Dawn Staley shoe is the first high-end performance shoe to be developed from the start on a technological level previously afforded only the likes of Michael Jordan footwear.
There were other development that turned 1997 into the year of the woman in sports marketing, including the fact that two pro women's leagues-the NBA's Women's National Basketball Association and the rival American Basketball League-proved to be viable marketing propositions.
The WNBA, with Nike's support, has been a good hook for non-sports marketers targeting women, among them Anheuser-Busch's Bud Light beer; VF Corp.'s Lee jeans brand; Sears, Roebuck & Co.; American Express Co.; and Coca-Cola Co.'s PowerAde sports drink. General Motors Corp. signed a three-year deal valued at $12 million to $15 million with the league.
ABL LURES NIKE AND REEBOK
The American Basketball League, which wasn't expected to weather the WNBA's NBA marketing support, has been strong enough to lure Nike as a sponsor in addition to its lead marketing partner, Reebok International.
The WNBA is scoring higher than its marketing proponents originally expected. Attendance at the games averaged 9,669, double initial projections.
Other sports leagues took notice. There has been talk of the National Hockey League supporting a women's pro hockey league; even the National Football League came to realize that women make up as much as 40% of its weekly audience. For the first time, the NFL licensed a line of apparel specifically for women.
The media also found women's sports attractive: Several sports magazines targeted to women were launched, among them Sports Illustrated for Women, Conde Nast Sports for Women and Jump. Also debuting was the Women's Sports & Entertainment Network, a national cable TV network owned by Liberty Sports.
In the new-media world, where the Internet has long been considered a male mecca, a number of online sites aimed at women have undergone overhauls, in part due to the increase in the percentage of women online.
Consultancy Jupiter Communications, New York, has projected that females will account for almost 50% of Internet users within two years.
SEARS SAW POWER
Among the first marketers to discover the new power of women was Sears, which turned itself around largely by recognizing it needed to appeal to more than the Craftsman tool set.
In pushing the "Softer side of Sears" in its advertising, the retailer elevated fashion and cosmetics to upfront status in its stores.
Another of the historically male-dominated product segments to recognize the importance of marketing to women was the automotive industry, which deals in a marketplace in which women influence 80% of new vehicle purchases.
Automakers have made the shift gradually. About two years ago, they started to put more women in the driver's seat in car ads. Earlier this year, GM became the first U.S. carmaker to name an agency of record for marketing to women, selecting Harris Marketing Group, Ann Arbor, Mich.
Ross Roberts, general manager of Ford Motor Co.'s Ford Division, set a specific goal for 1997 of reaching more women; that brought a change in buying ad time and space, from 60% male-targeted media to 60% female.
Ford also became the first car marketer to buy ad space in Conde Nast Publications' Bride's Magazine.
BOON FOR CONDE NAST
Catherine Viscardi-Johnson, exec VP of Conde Nast, said the company's titles should see 10% or more boosts in ad pages from Ford this year, "if not more."
Of course, reaching women is more difficult for male-stronghold marketers than changing magazine buys or sponsoring a women's pro league.
"The motivations [of women] are different from men, and marketers need to think about that," said Ann Clurman, partner in research firm Yankelovich Partners.
In the computer industry, for example, a recent study that IntelliQuest conducted for Conde Nast found the most important qualities in women's purchase decisions were warranties and the manufacturer's support and service reputation.
An Audits & Surveys study showed that women influence 45% of home PC purchases, and the IntelliQuest survey of 2,000 women in households that had bought a computer in the past two years or intended to buy one within 18 months found that 66% of PC purchases were made by women.
Yet tech marketers so far have stepped gingerly into targeting women in their advertising and marketing.
Samsung Electronics America has targeted women with an ad from Arnell Group, New York, that featured a stylish businesswoman carrying a notebook computer like a high-tech handbag. It also teamed with Vogue and Saks Fifth Avenue to stage a mini-fashion show on the floor of last fall's giant Comdex computer show.
Intel Corp. uses a fashion-show theme in a magazine ad targeting women that broke in October. The ad, from Euro RSCG Dahlin Smith White, Salt Lake City, is part of the chipmaker's first major campaign targeting women.
Intel will spend an estimated $3 million to $4 million on the fourth-quarter campaign, running in such titles as Martha Stewart Living, Glamour and House Beautiful.
The ad shows Intel's BunnyPeople strutting on a runway holding oversize Pentium II chips. Ann Lewnes, Intel director of worldwide advertising, said she sees no risk in using something as stereotypical as a fashion show to sell a tech product to women.
The ad is "a very playful way to show that we have a new product, but it's a way that will be very appealing to women as well as to men," she said.
"The ad is very tongue-in-cheek. I'm a woman; many of the people who work on our advertising team are women," she continued. "Obviously, we would never do anything to be discriminatory."
Women also have entered the male inner sanctum of the hardware store, recent studies have shown.
This past summer, Owens Corning studied women's role in home improvement and found that two-thirds were involved in materials installation, with 13% doing it themselves. Half the women surveyed compared themselves to Bob Vila and Tim Allen, while a little less than half compared themselves to Martha Stewart.
Still, when Owens Corning launched its first campaign targeting women, from agency Fahlgren, Toledo, Ohio, the brand's longtime Pink Panther ad spokescharacter showed up in a home where a man is calling the remodeling shots.
Beer marketers, perhaps the last bulwark of male-dominated advertising, are recognizing that in some segments, such as light beer, women consume 30% of the brew. They're grappling with how to appeal to women.
BUD LIGHT OVER BOYFRIENDS
A-B has been running spots for Bud Light, from DDB Needham Worldwide, Chicago, where women jilt wooers out of Bud Light.
"Over the past two years, we've done a good job of getting female lead characters in Bud Light commercials," said Bob Lachky, VP-brand management for A-B.
Rival Miller Brewing Co.'s Lite beer, in ads from Fallon McElligott, Minneapolis, spoof "babes in bikinis" spots of yesteryear, said Brand Director Mike Johnson, citing its "Happy Clean Beach" spot, where supermodel Rebecca Romijn fastidiously spiffs up a plot of sand, even polishing some crabs.
"It's all about her making fun of the stereotypes," he said.
Still, Miller Lite will continue to promote itself in another not-so-spoofy stereotype, Time Inc.'s annual Sports Illustrated's swimsuit issue.
Mr. Johnson, however, said that particular edition has a broad appeal, to women as well as men.
A spokeswoman for SI said the title's female readership more than triples with the swimsuit issue, to 16 million.
Some advertisers are tackling the new women's market with a sex-neutral approach. Levi Strauss & Co. this summer dropped its well-known "Jeans for women" campaign from Foote, Cone & Belding, San Francisco-along with its male-targeted campaign for 501 jeans-in favor of a series of ads that include men, women and children of a wide range of ethnic and age categories.
'SEGREGATION ERA HAS PASSED'
"The era of segregating women for marketing purposes has probably passed," said Steve Goldstein, VP-marketing and research, Levi's brand USA. "My sense is young women today don't need to be segregated."
Another way marketers have become comfortable in reaching women is connecting with women's causes. Breast cancer, in particular, has drawn the most interest, ranging from department stores such as Nordstrom to carmakers including GM.
Charity and cause marketing aside, winning a share of the money in a woman's purse in the future will require more than changes in product color, taglines and the other well-worn traditional marketing practices.
Marketing to women may require a new paradigm, one that could involve costly changes in business practices-such as improved customer service-but should pay off in the long run.
Contributing: James B. Arndorfer, Jean Halliday, Jeff Jensen, Bradley Johnson,