February 22, 2012
In the world of advertising, stereotypes abound. Men are domestically challenged; women choose cars by color; seniors don't know squat about the Internet, etc. Most themes that drive marketing decisions have been used for years without regard to changes in contemporary society, and this has never been more true than with ads geared towards women. Gross assumptions remain in the advertising subconscious, especially the myth that women don't know much about money and investing.
Girls Just Wanna Make Money
That may have been true 50 years ago, but women have changed. With many male-dominated industries hit hard by layoffs, and the male unemployment rate rising to 11 percent at one point during the recent “mancession," women are increasingly becoming the primary decision maker for consumer purchases in a household – up 4 percent between 2006 and 2010, while men’s consumer decisions decreased by the same amount. According to Stephanie Holland of She-Conomy: A Guy’s Guide to Marketing to Women, women make 85 percent of overall consumer purchases, including technology and cars. They also make the final decision on 91 percent of new home purchases, 92 percent of vacations, 89 percent of bank accounts and 65 percent of new cars, according to Holland.
Here are 5 commons myths about female consumers that advertisers need to reassess:
1. Myth: Women do most of the cleaning and cooking
A flip through daytime TV will show many a happy female face sniffing fresh laundry or peering over a sparkling floor. But this may be a lopsided apportionment of airtime devoted to consumers with more than one X chromosome. Last year, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics debunked the often-cited stat that women spend 15 hours a week more than men on housework, with data showing that women on average are putting in only an average of 20 minutes more of both unpaid and paid work per day than their husbands, which could include work at the office. And according to a “Chore Wars” study by a cleaning products company, the extra work could be all in women’s heads – 69 percent of women said they felt that they did most of the household chores, but 53 percent of men disagreed, saying they carried an equal load as women.
2. Myth: Women don't buy cars and computers
Despite tech and car ads being overwhelmingly geared towards men, one marketing company called Girlpower, found that women buy more than 50 percent of “traditional male products,” including electronics, home improvement tools and cars. And when it comes to purchasing a car, women get better results, according to an analysis by Florida-based LeaseTrader. The study found that women ordered third-party vehicle inspections 67.2 percent of the time, while men only opted for them 54.5 percent of the time. The gap was particularly notable among younger consumers: 78.2 percent of the time women aged 21-30 asked for an external inspection, while men in the same age bracket asked for third-party inspections only 42.3 percent of the time. Women were also more likely than men to ask questions about a car’s accident history, safety performance, and functionality.
3. Myth: Women just love pink
Whether it’s the pink beer unveiled last fall by Molson Coors in the U.K., bubblegum pink LG phones, or rose-hued laptops, marketers love to associate women with the color pink. But according to a 2003 survey by Joe Hallock, women’s (as well as men’s) favorite color was actually blue. The second-most favorite color among women was purple, with 23 percent of women participating in the study going for grape. In addition, a report entitled “The Truth About Women and Consumer Electronics” from the Consumer Electronics Association shows that women, as do men, prioritize price, warranties and product functionality in their electronics. Color is near the bottom of the list. “Forget pink. Women don’t want to be catered to with ultra-feminine looking products; they simply prefer lightweight devices that can fit smaller hands and smaller body frames,” Consumer Electronics Association strategic research manager Jessica Boothe said in the report.
4. Myth: Women care a lot more about their looks than men
Sure, women still buy more beauty products than men, but recently men have ramped up their use of personal care products. Sales for premium skin care products for men jumped 5 percent in 2010, and 11 percent in 2011, according to NPD Group. Of those, 37 percent reported using a facial cleanser besides bar soap and facial moisturizers, and 30 percent said they used lip products. Plus men care about how they appear—or smell to the world. In 2010, Procter & Gamble struggled with how to sell scented body wash to men, and came up with a campaign called “Smell like a man, man” with a commercial featuring a shirtless Isaiah Mustafa telling men to stop using ladies’ body wash, and switch to the Old Spice brand. The YouTube version of the commercial has garnered over 39 million views and sales of the body wash spiked by 55 percent after the campaign’s launch. And in order to still feel manly when using the product, instead of a typical “pouf” scrubber that accompanies body wash, Old Spice marketed it as a “Deck Scrubber.”
5. Myth: Women are not competitive
The reason there are fewer female CEOs? Women are dissuaded by competitive work environments, suggested a study led by University of Chicago economics professor John List. After placing job ads on internet job boards, he noticed that women were more likely to eschew the position in which compensation would be based on performance relative to their co-workers. Marti Barletta, the author of Marketing to Women, claims this is because men are better at bragging. That doesn’t mean a lack of competition, however, but a different manifestation of it. Sometimes that can mean more passive-aggressive behaviors like social exclusion to get ahead. But one recent study in the Economic Journal found that the “gender competition gap” disappears when women are allowed to work in teams. In the study, the number of women willing to enter a competition nearly doubled when they could compete in a two-person team rather than as an individual. Whether they picked a male or female to be their teammate, the study didn’t say.
Correction February 23, 2012: An earlier version of this article said the author of Marketing to Women was Marti Valetta. The author's name is Marti Barletta.