There’s no need to address the power of marketing and advertising. It has a strong impact on popular culture and society. It influences what we wear, what we listen to, what we like. Point made.
This also means that if companies and marketers really want to, they can be a powerful driver in changing people’s perceptions of society.
The movement for the empowerment of women, for instance, has been growing to the point where we are now, thanks to the efforts and dedication of millions of women and men across the world.
As sexism will no longer be tolerated in the public eye, the advertising and marketing industry is being closely observed by everyone.
It came a time, when myself, as a marketer and a woman, couldn’t distinguish anymore if I disliked an ad because it offended me, or just by political correctness. I started questioning what was wrong in advertising addressed to women.
Tiago has a very famous sentence he tells me every now and then: “To work in marketing, you’ll have to be able to put people into boxes.”
I gave this a bit of thought and ended up more confused than I was before. I was confronted with the fine line between “putting people into boxes” – which I interpret as defining a market segment according to some specific characteristics – and evoking a stereotype.
It’s a “what came first: the chicken or the egg?” kind of situation. Is there really one without the other? I couldn’t figure it out. So, I turned to the definition of the two concepts.
“Segmentation is the process of dividing a broad consumer market, normally consisting of existing and potential customers, into sub-groups of consumers (known as segments) based on some type of shared characteristics.”
“A stereotype is any thought widely adopted about specific types of individuals or certain ways of behaving intended to represent the entire group of those individuals or behaviors. These thoughts or beliefs may or may not accurately reflect reality.”
So, I tried to form my own point view: Market segments exist and make sense.
If you sell protein powder, for instance, you might choose as your primary target athletes or people who work out at the gym. It doesn’t mean that a person who doesn’t practice sport can’t or won’t buy your product, it just means they are less likely to buy it. It made sense to me.
So, it also made sense that the same criteria would be applied to segmentation based on sex. If a product is more likely to be bought by women, sure, why not address it as the main target?
If we talk about make-up for instance. That it’s completely fine that a make-up brand uses girl models to showcase their products. Even if women are not the only buyers of make-up, they are the main target.
Well, the thing is, this raises two questions:
- How do your portrait the women that you view as the target?
- How does your brand want to be portrayed by that target?
Allow me to use an example.
BIC, the famous pen brand, completely missed the mark in 2012 when they launched a new line of pens for women. Was it completely unnecessary to create pens specifically for women since any pen can be used by a woman as long as she can a) hold a pen and b) use it?
Well, sure. But that’s not even the point. The point is: this was their ad.
Of course, it didn’t take long for people to start reacting on social media.
The problem here wasn’t only the product. It was the way they diminished the role of women in their ad, complying with the stereotype that men belong to leadership roles while women should work for them.
According to Unilever’s research in 2016 that considered ads from a variety of businesses, only 3% of advertising showed women in leadership roles, 2% were shown as intelligent and 1% had a sense of humor.
This takes me to point number two.
How does a brand want to be portraited among that segment?
Procter and Gamble‘s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said he had an epiphany on a family holiday.
He realized that the models for their “Easy, Breezy, Beautiful” campaign were “too skinny, too monolithic in terms of being blonde-haired and blue-eyed, and too white“.
These models didn’t represent most of the girls and women that bought their products. They just created the desire of their young girls and women to become the girl in the picture and taught them not to feel comfortable in their own body.
Since then, P&G has been working on improving the representation of women in their campaigns.
A social experiment led by the company unveiled that “at puberty “50% of girls feel paralyzed by the fear of failure, with 80% of girls feeling that societal pressure to be perfect drives this fear of failure. This leads to girls avoiding trying new things because they’re too afraid to fail.”
So they decided to work from there. In their campaign #LikeAGirl, P&G tackled the way people use the expression “like a girl” in a derogatory way as it may have an impact on the way girls look at themselves.
It is a heart-warming campaign that encourages women to challenge the societal norms and stereotypes, and give a new meaning to this expression.
I would like to finish with this thought: If you need to sell a washing machine you can target it to women, of course. They are more likely to buy it.
But, if you took in consideration that households are changing and men and women are taking into more equal roles at the house, in the working environment, and in society, wouldn’t you want to be a force for good and empower change and growth? I know I would.