Monday, October 29, 2012

Marketing to Women: You're Doing It Wrong

Lately I've been seeing a spate of products marketed toward women.  Ridiculously, unnecessarily marketed toward women.  Products like pens and beef jerky and Legos.  Products that(you would think) are genderless.

I think I know the reasoning behind all this, too.  Somebody was looking at the sales figures and thinks, "This product sells mostly to men.  If we target women, we'll have a huge market open to us."  

And so they take a formerly gender neutral product and try to feminize it.  Make it smaller, make it sweeter, make it pink(and possibly other pastel colors).

And it's all stupid.  When I see it, it feels like disingenuous pandering.  Probably because that's what it is.  

Does anybody really think women don't buy BIC pens because their small, frail hands can't grip the rugged shaft, and the garish, manly colors offend their sight?  Or that they don't buy jerky because their child-like tastes veer toward sweeter, fruitier flavors?

Honestly, haven't we moved on from this way of thinking yet?

Obviously not, because marketers(and many other people, but that's another issue) still see women as "other."  They are a separate group with different values and a different way of thinking.

I suppose they could be forgiven for thinking this.  After all, how many times do we hear people pointing out how different women are?  Relationship-advisors telling us that, when women complain, they're not asking for help, just venting.  Comedians talking about how a man would punch you in the face, a woman would stab you in the back.  Men are simple, women are complicated.  

And women go to the bathroom in groups.  What's up with that?

The thing is, all of these differences are created by society.  They are all behaviors that women have to learn in order to deal with the different standards and expectations placed upon them.

"But don't marketers have to work with what society gives you?" you might ask.  "I mean, you wouldn't use the same campaign in Africa as you would in America, because they're a different society with different values and ideas.  So even if these differences are only created by society, don't we still need to take them into consideration when marketing a product?"

That's a very good question, Hypothetical Reader.  The answer is: partly yes, but mostly no.

Marketing is like a funhouse mirror.  Some aspects of the product are emphasized(You like low prices, and this has a very low price), and some are deemphasized or ignored completely(It will break in a week), and the product becomes a reflection of the values and ideas that you already hold.

Knowing which parts of a picture should be ignored is just as important as knowing which ones to highlight.  Those imagined differences between men and women need to be ignored because they only serve to create unnecessary barriers between groups.  Those barriers let people know that you are not talking to them and they can ignore you, even if they might otherwise have bought your product.  

It's the job of a marketer to get people's attention, and you do that by including people in the group you are addressing, not separating and excluding them.

And there lies the key to successfully marketing to women: realize that you are not marketing to women, you're marketing to people.  People who eat jerky, write with pens, and play with Legos, regardless of what sort of genitalia they have.

This goes both ways.  Hair care products are largely marketed to women, but what about the men who want to take care of their hair?  There's no reason to exclude them.  These products should be marketed to people who want healthy, shiny hair, not just women.

And maybe if we, as marketers, stop pretending that men and women are different, then the rest of society will finally begin to follow suit.  Dare to dream.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The "Do Not Track" Controversy

The other day I saw this article on Ad Age.  It says that a "coalition of advertising trade associations" called the Digital Advertising Alliance has decided that it's okay to just ignore the "do not track" setting on Internet Explorer 10(If you haven't heard, Microsoft has said that IE10 will have DNT turned on by default).

The reasoning behind this is that, because it was the default setting, it doesn't count as the person's choice.

The big problem here is that they are presuming to know what the users want and taking the control out of their hands.  As a marketer, you never do that.

What you do is figure out what you have to offer, and then offer that to the people who want it.  If you do, in fact, know what people want, that's easy.  If you're a really good salesman, you can convince people that they want what you offer.

But in the end, it's always the consumer's choice.  You can place yourself directly in front of them, but they still have to come to you.

I think that's what unnerves people about online tracking in the first place.  Instead of people seeking out the providers and marketers, those marketers are approaching the customers without being solicited.  It's the same with door-to-door salesmen, telemarketers, or Jehovah's Witnesses.

Now marketers are taking it a step further by taking a choice out of the customers' hands.  They are essentially unchecking that little box for you.

This is not just an inconvenience for people who want to not be tracked.  While it is likely that some of the users don't know or care about the DNT settings, it is also likely that some users were drawn to IE10 because of the default settings.  Those people made a conscious choice in using IE10 and the DAA is ignoring that.

For those people, the freedom of choice has been taken away.  Even if they could make it clear that it's not the default setting, that it is the user-preferred setting, that's requiring them to make the choice again after the first one was ignored.

To me, this marks the line between being convenient and creepy.  When marketers approach customers instead of the other way around, things get creepy and privacy gets violated.  When you start ignoring choices they make, you take away the customer's power.  And when you start making their choices for them, you take away some of their freedom.

People don't usually react kindly to that.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Gay Rights: Cultural Turning Point or Marketing Fad?

Was it just me, or did this summer seem kind of gay?

I don't mean that in any kind of negative way.  I just mean that a lot of brands seemed to be very strongly supporting gay rights this year(and for the record, I'm in favor of that).

First there were JCPenney's ads for Mother's Day and Father's Day sales which featured same-sex couples with their children, then there was Oreo's infamous rainbow cookie(which I still wish was real, because that looks delicious), and though I never saw any Starbucks ads featuring this theme, they made a lot of headlines with their public support of gay marriage legislation in Washington.

What's behind this seemingly sudden outpouring of support?  Have we reached a cultural turning point where homosexuality is finally so accepted that marketers can openly target that demographic, or is this simply a marketing fad that some brands are using to grab a bit of attention?  Can it be both?

The way so many brands were showing their support after JCPenney makes it seem like a bit of a fad.  When everyone else saw the kind of attention they were getting, they all jumped on board before it became passee.

Not a bad idea, from a marketing perspective.  It certainly worked out for Starbucks.  They saw an entire grassroots movement form around buying their coffee.

It's possible that our society has turned a corner.  That, once JCPenney showed it was safe, everyone took the opportunity to express themselves and the floodgates opened.  Perhaps they were all excited to finally be able to appeal to a group that they had been forced to pretend did not exist for fear of starting a controversy and finding themselves in a PR nightmare.

Now we are in the fall, Gay Pride Month is far behind us, and I haven't heard much from brands about supporting LGBT rights lately.  Sure, if you search for it, you'll still see some articles here and there about companies supporting(or opposing) LGBT rights, but nothing like the phenomenon that we saw this summer.

So it looks like it was all a fad of sorts.  Just like with the Olympics and the presidential election, brands saw a hot topic and jumped at the opportunity to grab some of the spotlight.

That might sound bad, but I would consider it a very good sign.  It would mean society has become accepting to the point that something like this can become a fad.

At least, it would if that's what actually happened.  But let's take a closer look at these events.

JCPenney hired Ellen DeGeneres as their spokesperson in 2011, well before any of this summer's controversies began.  The Mother's Day and Father's Day ads seem like a natural extension of the supportive stance the company had already taken.

Starbucks voiced their support of the new legislation back in January, again before the height of the controversy.  And, like JCPenney, it was a reasonable extension of their existing policies.

Oreo perhaps caused one of the biggest stirs with their rainbow cookie, but I don't think they can even be credited with that.  All they did was make an image for their Daily Twist campaign.  There was no way they could have planned for it to spread like it did.

So then what was behind the sudden attention to gay rights?  Was the media simply covering it much more for some reason?

I think that was part of it, but mainly I think it was because all of these stories went viral.  People became passionate and vocal about LGBT rights and equality in a way that they haven't before.  It could be that a new generation has come of age that is more accepting than those before, or it could be that social media has made it easier for those who are already passionate to make their voices heard.  Or it could be backlash against anti-gay conservative groups who had suddenly become vocal themselves(nothing gets people fired up like having an enemy).  Likely it is a combination of the three.

As always, the marketing industry serves as a kind of mirror, reflecting what's going through the minds of the consumers.  We saw brands getting fired up because we saw people getting fired up.  And I'm eager to see what comes next.