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Does advertising treat women like morons?

by Madwoman on March 21, 2013

“Women. You’re leaky, hairy, overweight and the advertising aimed at you is absolutely rubbish.”

Mitchell & Webb parodies how many TV ads treat women as morons:

The sketch pretty much sums up the contrast between advertising aimed at women and ads targetting men. Which is odd seeing as the ad industry is meant to be creative and forward thinking isn’t it? Yet what we see is an incredibly conservative view of men and women’s roles. And when it comes to thinking up creative ideas for ads aimed at women, there’s a distinct lack of imagination.

The real creativity is obviously all being stored up for the next beer brief, where there may be a chance of winning an award, or at least kudos in the (laddish) creative department. And that’s because the creative director is likely to be male, and so are the awards juries. Rosie Arnold pointed out in the Drum recently that a woman’s idea of what a ‘good ad’ looks like is not the same as a man’s, she says:

“If you think about the films women like to see and the books women read and the activities women enjoy, it’s very different from the same things that men do. One of my bugbears and maybe one of the reasons we’re not getting so many women in the industry is that it’s all-male juries, so therefore the work [women] do isn’t rated. It’s no surprise to me that over the last 50 years or so, sports brands and beer brands have dominated the awards. It’s quite difficult if you’re a woman.”

When you think about it, the reason men set the bar for what’s ‘good’ is pretty obvious. Ad agencies have an incredibly masculine culture and working on briefs for women’s products just isn’t sexy. When I last worked in a big agency creative department, the test for a good idea was whether or not it ‘gave you a stiffy’. And, I admit, I was fully complicit.

But how much longer can this lad-centric monopolization of ‘good’ advertising continue? David Ogilvy famously said, “The consumer is not a moron, she is your wife.” And, as most men would agree, wives/girlfriends/partners/significant others are not quite the same today as they were in Ogilvy’s day. So why do our screens continue to be filled with put upon housewives and harassed mothers?

When defending their much complained about Christmas ad, Saatchis and Asda claimed it showed a ‘realistic portrayal’ of their customers’ lives. But is advertising about showing ‘realistic portrayals’? Why then don’t we show a ‘realistic portrayal’ of the average Lynx user? (Spotty youth wanking in his bedroom to a Beyoncé poster) Or a ‘realistic portrayal’ of a Carlsberg drinker? (middle-aged man sitting on the sofa eating a bacon sarnie while watching Eastenders).

It’s 2013 – isn’t it time we at least acknowledged that women are changing? Or at least trying to? Even if they are stuck in roles where they are doing all the cooking and cleaning, can’t we give them a glimmer of hope? Can’t we entertain them rather than holding up a mirror?

How about using making them laugh, or at least smile? When did you last see a really funny ad aimed at women? Believe it or not guys, women do have a sense of humour – it’s just different to men’s. That’s why I end up crying with laughter at Smack the Pony when my husband looks on bemused.

A man recently said to me he hated the episode of QI where all the guests were women because he felt like he was ‘gatecrashing a girls night in and didn’t understand what was funny’. But that’s the point – humour is all about shared experience and observing nuances. It’s easy for women to ‘get’ male humour because male culture and experience is all around us, in our faces. We know what makes them laugh. But years of basically ignoring female culture means men don’t understand our jokes.

I don’t want to end too negatively because there is some hope out there. There are people in our client companies and ad agencies – who really want to understand how to talk to women. These ‘brave’ people aren’t trying to do ‘marketing to women’, they are trying to create advertising for people who happen to be female. Real female people who are, amazing as it may sound, all different from each other. Female people who have varied and interesting lives and are not obsessed with gut agony, wrinkles and getting tea on the table.

This week’s glimmer of hope is the new Adidas campaign. It features women in sport and, unbelievably, doesn’t obsess about body parts (as Nike has tended to do), avoids sexualization and simply shows women being, well, women. On their terms – not as men imagine them to be.

Come on, advertising – wake up and smell the perfume – women are people too! And like Adidas has shown, you can do good advertising for women. You really can.

From → Advertising

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