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.

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