Amy-Willard Cross, Founder & Editor, Vitamin W
Brands: Why She’s Just Not That Into You (And What You Can Do to Improve)
The future of advertising is women–more women staying in the field and advertising that communicates better to women.
There’s an oft-cited statistic: women control 80% of the consumer dollars in the United States.
Yet there’s another less familiar figure that is gaining currency–3%, which represents the proportion of female creatives in the ad business.
Of course, men can create great advertising that speaks to women, and have done so. But it’s easier to please the 80% with more women on the team.
Unless those circles overlap more, many consumer brands will miss the opportunity to really connect with their core demographic.
Advertising isn’t just a one way conversation anymore. Regular women—no longer just feminists –are fighting mis-targeted advertising via social media.
- In April, Reebok was forced to drop spokesperson Rick Ross for rape-condoning lyrics after an online petition garnered 100,000 signatures in under two weeks. 550 rape survivors sent a letter to Reebok and women called the company.
- The infamous 2011 Komen debacle resulted in a loss of millions in donations and gave the group a tarnished name.
- Teenagers of the group Spark forced Seventeen to forswear photoshopping.
The film Miss Representation, which illustrates how media treats women in power and skewers the ad business, was broadcast on OWN is screened daily across the US. The organization behind it created a hashtag #notbuyingit to protest bad products or ads. During the 2013 Superbowl, 20,000 tweets were sent which reached over a million people. The group is developing an app to make it easy to protest. (There is a smiley face feedback too).
In addition to Miss Rep’s 100,000 people, there’s “Everyday sexism” on twitter that outs commercial faux pas and which is starting dozens of chapters worldwide. There is even grumbling within the ad world–most recently about the Clios own advertising that disappeared women from the event. These online women are not yet hoards of masked anonymous hackers; rather, they are outspoken influencers with large social networks. Advertisers should be worried. According to Crowdtap, 92% of consumers rely on recommendations from people they know above all else, compared to 47% of people who are influenced by ads on TV.
These pixilated amazons don’t just unite to fight, they can come together equally powerfully to support content, actions or companies they like. Last week, 13 million people watched the latest from DOVE–the Beauty Sketches. (Note: it was created by an entirely male team.)
Why was that video so appealing? Because the message was an interesting social experiment. It provided a moment to think about a new idea: that we see ourselves distortedly–visually and probably in many ways. Millions of women–and men alike–responded to it powerfully. Some criticized, of course, but most appreciated the act. Wouldn’t more brands want to reach women so powerfully?
CHANGING THE CONVERSATION
In the future, successful advertising will reach women in a similar way–instead of broadcasting “buy me messages”. Kat Gordon, an industry pro who started the successful 3% conference says that female creatives approach women differently. As in real life, they try to earn the right to a conversation, and “don’t enter the room talking”. Gordon thinks brands need to be tuned into those niceties.
They need to do so because they are jockeying for consumers’ fragmented attention and not just with other brands. Brand messages in a Facebook feed compete with updates from children or friends whom people really care about.
In an interview, Gordon remarked that brands often shill, “Find us on facebook”. To which many double-shift working women might reply, “WHY would I want to do that? I have to find my excel data and my son’s dress shirt before the school assembly—why should I want to find your Company on Facebook? What are YOU going to do for me there?” Gordon thinks brands have to be helpful and personal.
When it comes to reaching women successfully, it’s not always about pure messaging. Gordon cites the example of Levis Curve ID; the company retooled its jean sizing and production after discovering that most women had to try on nine pairs of jeans before finding a pair that fit. That’s not a message, as much as an act that needs showcasing.
As Dove has done– and as many pundits in this business have said before–advertisers will have to create new kinds of content not strictly thought of as advertising. This new content will have to help, provoke or engage consumers–not just sell.
There will have to be a different style of communication. There are some theories about the languages of love–that people express in various ways and brands might do well to imitate some of these varieties of communication, some of which are: Acts of service, Affirmation, emotional sharing, etc. (There are others, such as sex or appearance, however, which wouldn’t suit brand-consumer interaction.)
Even if more women aren’t creating the content in the very near future, they can still help vet it to prevent the enormous gaffes of the past. Gordon of the 3% Conference is working with Miss Representation (remember, the ones making an app to talk back to advertisers) to present agencies with a document they could use when developing creative briefs.
CHANGING THE CONVERSATIONLISTS
To change the conversation, advertising will need to invite more people to join in. Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk, who are famous for the groundbreaking Dove Evolution of Real Beauty Campaign say that women-only agencies aren’t the answer and that diverse teams do the best work. However, if female creatives know how to enter into a conversation with other women and can create messages that resonate with 80% of the buying public, it makes sense to keep them at the table. Clients often ask for women to be put on the team–and will ask agencies, where are the female leaders?
There aren’t enough to go around. Vonk and Kestin ,who now run leadership training company Swim say that there has to be more women in leadership. Men tend to hire other men and anoint successors who look like them. It’s just the affinity principle-but not evil. The Swim duo say current women leaders are those who act like men: to develop more women leaders, other traits will have to be valued, such as flexibility. People at the top need to have some good old-fashioned consciousness-raising to see the value of bringing in female talent. There are loads of women in the pipeline who graduate from portfolio school, but they don’t stay. Vonk and Kestin say that women in the business will have to make demands–remaining silent then fleeing the business doesn’t fix the problem.
Gordon states the industry is family-unfriendly. Both genders are rewarded for having “no life”. The Swim Team say that Millenials won’t stand for that kind of life. They’re not motivated by money, prestige or titles. This generation that was brought up with two working parents will help transform the agency world, think Vonk & Kestin.
Saying that the industry is run by dinosaurs–albeit very nice ones–Vonk and Kestin wonder if the big agency model will persist. Some research suggests that communication breaks down in organizations greater than 150 people. The agency of the future might look more like a startup, which can be nimble and flexible. I there’s a flatter hierarchy and more ways of collaborating, they have a chance of retaining millenials and women. Vonk and Kestin imagine creating a bunch of best practices to retain women–such as on site day care, which is almost unheard of in the agency world.
In the advertising of the future, the two circles will come in closer; rather than dropping out, women will stay in the transformed ad business that rewards people differently. Retaining female creatives will result in more ads that please or delight women and fewer offensive ones that incite twitter bombing, angry petitions and expensive cancelling of campaigns or spokespeople.
#Notbuyingit would go away, replaced by #thankscorp–for that app, or that resource, those videos, or those shareable customized cards, or those donations to a women’s cause. #thankscorp
A longtime editor of national magazines in the US and Canada, Amy-Willard Cross is the founder and editor of VITAMIN W. After seeing the change in the print business and the infinite content and infinitessimal income in digitial publishing, Cross has been obsessively studying new advertising/publishing models. VITAMIN W is a media platform designed to connect the marketplace to women, communicate in positive ways with in-house created branded content, sponsored content as well as bespoke or off-the-shelf CSR campaigns.