Why understanding gender differences is so important in advertising and marketing to women
Bridget Brennan, 2011
In her book, ‘Why She Buys’, Bridget Brennan points out that although the differences between the way men and women see the world is the basis for jokes, books, dramas, TV shows and more … it’s not taken as seriously as it should be in our marketing departments and advertising agencies.
Brennan comments that:
‘ Considering there are only two genders in the human world and one of them does most of the shopping, it’s stunning how many companies overlook the psychology of gender, when we all know men and women look at the world very differently.’
Here’s a common scenario set out in Brennan’s book:
Top ad agency creative team, Ben and Steve have been asked to come up with an ad for canned food aimed at mums with young children. The brief is to shake up the category by positioning the product as the hippest thing on the canned food shelf – they, and the client, believe they can transform the product with their creativity.
The problem is, Ben and Steve don’t know anything about what drives the purchasing decisions of mothers, and they’re not that interested. On the surface they are, but they have no desire to go deep – they already have their own ideas about what’s cool.
Like a lot of young creatives, Ben and Steve live a bachelor lifestyle. The day-to-day life of a mum with kids is as alien to them as that of a Tibetan Monk.
Yes, they’ve read the research reports, but when it comes to developing a great creative idea, they rely on their instincts as to what’s ‘good’, creatively. And they end up with a campaign that the mostly male team at the agency and the mostly male client team think is amazing.
But it’s a masculine view of what’s amazing – because to them, a ‘masculine’ concept isn’t male, it’s ‘normal’.So, when the campaign doesn’t work, the client blames the agency and looks for another creative hot shop to deliver the illusive ‘big’ idea.
It will never occur to any of them that that the reason the campaign failed may have been a lack of understanding of the opposite sex.
Why men don’t get female culture
Girls are socialised differently to boys. Society expects different things from them and does its best to instil its codes of behaviour, language and values. And girls learn to love this special culture- indeed some boys, like my gay son, want to be involved in it.
But this is in no way a negative (even though, seen through a male lens it will seem it), female traits should be celebrated as positive, life-enhancing and powerful. Not, as we so often see in advertising, detrimental, as in the Snickers ‘get some nuts’ commercial featuring Mr T attacking men for exhibiting femaleness by visiting wine bars, power walking and yoga. The men were berated as a ‘disgrace to the man race.’
Men often find female culture difficult to engage with and the two genders frequently bemoan the fact that the other doesn’t understand them. Men will joke about, and take pride in the fact they can’t communicate with women – yes, even men who work in marketing!
With the two genders separated at birth, it is no surprise that special measures are needed to delve into each other’s territories.
It should also be noted that because male culture is the more dominant in our society, it’s much easier for women to make the leap into the masculine domain.
That’s because any woman who works in a male dominated business will be immersed in male values, codes and behaviours all day, every day. Many women find it easy to be ‘one of the boys’. Just look at Madmen’s Peggy Olsen as an example of a female who’s joined the boys club. It’s unlikely you’d hear a man admit to being ‘one of the girls’ unless it was a self-deprecating joke.
In our society, men are taught to repress their female tendencies – but girls can take on masculine traits with few problems. Tomboys are often celebrated – but it doesn’t ever work the other way round – so we teach our children that male is best – for men and women.
Having a woman on your team is not enough
Even if your project team, both client and agency side includes women, it’s unlikely they will be senior, decision-makers. And even if this is the case, it can be difficult for those women to subvert the male ‘norm’. Women can be reluctant to point out or defend gender differences because this only reminds them of their own difference when what they want is equality with men – or ‘sameness’.
Women work hard to become part of the male-dominant team and the last thing they want is to draw attention to their femaleness. That’s because female traits such as empathy and caring are traditionally viewed as inferior to male and better suited to a role in HR. Women who ‘harp on’ about pleasing women can be seen as ‘party poopers’ or worse, ‘Feminists’.
But an inability to acknowledge, embrace, accept and celebrate female qualities will stop both men and women winning over their female target market.