This year’s Advertising week–the annual convergence of thought leaders in the media and communications industries—has been chock full of interesting discussions. Not least among them was the Rethink Marketing to Women panel, with Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Getty Images CEO, Jonathan Klein, Cosmo’s Editor in Chief Joanna Coles, and BBDO’s Andrew Robertson.
The panel was a rallying cry, urging all of us, as marketers, to think about the creative assets we use when we talk about and to women, highlighting how the implicit connotations of our words and images can have a real-life impact on the treatment and equality of women today.
The panel started out with an interesting observation: across the globe and spanning a multitude countries, languages, and religions, there seems to be a predominate cultural perception—men lead and women follow. This idea is pervasive in our stories, our idols, and our ads, even when it’s not true. (In the U.S. today, more women than men are getting college degrees, and while wage inequality is a hot topic of the moment, women are actually expected to make more than the average male in the next decade.) So what can marketers do to reflect this changing dynamic in their work?
It’s Boss, Not Bossy: Rethink Your Words
Pantene, a brand that could easily just be associated with gorgeous women and outward beauty decided to use their platform to shine a spotlight how the words we use to describe women—bossy, pushy, emotional, etc.—are doing harm.
The video has been received with huge success, including over 46 million views on YouTube. Immediately after its launch, Pantene’s brand favorability went up five percent across the board and nine percent among millennials. But most importantly, it’s a moving reminder to be careful of the language we use… not just in copywriting, but in our own offices and lives.
If You Build It (Realistically), They Will Come
So what’s caused the recent onslaught of progressive advertising? Some panelists credit the increasing role of social media (particularly since most social users are female). These days, new ads sit before a jury of online spectators, equipped with a public forum to pass judgment.
The growing accessibility of data also plays a role–allowing companies to get a better read on the cultural zeitgeist. An important factor since, as Joanna Coles asserted, brands today are expected to have a conversation with their consumers, requiring them to work harder and no longer rely on troupes. She pointed out that the more we can make our work, stories, ads (as Cosmo articles) reflect the realistic state of women today, the more our female consumer will feel understood.
It’s worth noting that this new realism isn’t just about women, it’s also working to flip gender roles across the board. I particularly love this new Dove ad (with over 12 million views) that puts special emphasis on the role men play in raising kids and doing home activities:
In the end, as Andrew Robertson of BBDO phrased it, “Portraying a more realistic [character] creates a stronger relationship with your viewer, which in turn sells more stuff.”
If You’re Inspired, Click!
So with all the goodwill and business benefits, why isn’t every brand rethinking their marketing? The simple truth is that the old way still works. Putting women in bikinis and showing men in the office still increases click-throughs and leads to conversions, and each of us is complicit in this disservice.
Instead, we need to applaud the good examples. Next time you see an ad, article or post that you identify with, that you think better portrays a realistic and forward thinking character, congratulate them by clicking. Share with your circles and followers and contribute your own data to the cause!
Want to see more? Check out these great examples and resources:
- Getty Images ‘Lean In’ series: http://www.gettyimages.com/creative/frontdoor/leanin
- Ban Bossy: http://banbossy.com/
- #RePicture: http://infocus.gettyimages.com/post/repicture-were-moving-the-world-by-repicturing-it#.VDKb32ddV8E