Davis Brand Brief: March 2014


Inspired by Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, the March Davis Brand Brief explores the relationship between brands and women. Which brands understand women and which ones have more work to do? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter. #womenandbrands



Rosie is Not Riveted

"I am woman, hear me roar, in numbers too big to ignore."

When Helen Reddy wrote the pioneering anthem of the women’s movement in 1971, she may not have imagined that 43 years later her lyrics would be so applicable to brands and the consumer marketplace. And yet, here we are in 2014 and it’s true. The numbers are too big to ignore:

  • 85 percent – overall consumer spending by women, from automobiles to healthcare
  • 75 percent – women who identify themselves as primary shoppers in households
  • 91 percent – women who say that advertisers don’t understand them

So where are the brands that do understand and reach women in compelling ways? It’s been a decade since Dove’s breakout “Real Beauty” campaign and, while more brands are fighting for real women, they seem to be the exception, not the rule. It’s time for brands to understand that women are interested in more than looks, clothes, cooking, motherhood and wellness. There’s a lot of coverage out there about how to best reach women, none of which push the envelope and show new thinking: coupons and chat groups, mommy blogs, Pinterest. The dreaded and lazy "man lite" approach.

That said, there are few brands really trying (or, at least, trying to figure out how) to appeal to women.

On the innovation front, brands such as Ringly and MEMI are focusing on designing beautiful, not technical-looking, wearables for women – yet another beautiful thing in the Internet of Things.

To keep up with changing times, Swiss watchmakers are devoting resources in 2014 to understanding how women tick, and toy companies are back in the business of making pink bows. But in the age of the “Hunger Games,” these bows shoot.

With more women than ever in the driver’s seat, Nissan is reshaping its approach to marketing to appeal more to the “empowered female” (in the words of Nissan’s global marketing chief, Andy Palmer). While “empowered male” is something we likely would never hear come out of the mouths of marketing executives, we’ll take what we can get.

Overall, however, we are hard-pressed to find many brands (or even just a singular brand) that have unlocked the answers to reaching women where they truly live, work and play. Very few brands view women as more than moms, or moms-to-be. And, as brands face the challenge of reaching the increasingly powerful (and not easily influenced) millennial woman, the ante is, as they say, upped. This includes navigating the ever-complex world of social media. A world run by – surprise! – girls.

Ultimately, it seems that brands aren’t focused on the world’s (and certainly the U.S.’s) most powerful population. Brands that continue to ignore – or flub – women-focused strategies will find themselves kicked to the curb.



That’s What She Said

Double entendres and jokes aside, women make America’s economy great and what she says really does go. Over the past several years, women have increased their earning and spending power. In 2010, The Boston Consulting Group reported that one billion women participated in the workforce worldwide, and over the next several years will be responsible for $5 trillion or more of incremental spending on goods and services of all kinds. Last year, Nielsen reported that in the U.S. alone, working women generate $4.3 trillion in annual earned income, represent 50 percent of all workers and are the fastest accumulators of wealth, owning 75 percent of the wealth in the U.S.

With women driving the economy, some from precarious glass cliffs, one would think that financial brands would be working extra-hard to understand and appeal to women. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Research shows that nine out of 10 women feel that advertisers don’t understand them, and marketing from financial institutions are some of the worst offenders. American women spend about $5 trillion annually – over half of the U.S. domestic GDP. Not understanding or – worse – misunderstanding women is sure to result in economic catastrophe for brands.

A few brands are visibly vying for women’s attention in the (rather expected) athletic clothing space. Lululemon, Gap and Urban Outfitters are duking it out for their share of the yoga/running/stylish gym attire space, which is estimated to exceed $126 billion by 2015. Who will win the race remains to be seen, but the victor will have done so by finding the clever balance between appealing to women’s individuality, desire to be part of something meaningful, and human need to feel comfortable and good about themselves while sweating it out. Let’s just say that Lululemon has been working hard to make up for their budget-busting brand blunders last year.

Meantime, a $1 trillion market is going ignored: single, childless, independent women over the age of 35. At 28-million strong, making up almost a third of all women, “Single Indies” are not a niche market. She has the money to spend because she doesn’t have the expense of a family household. How brands approach Single Indies, along with female millennials and baby boomers just may dictate their future success.

As women (finally) take some of the most powerful seats in business – Sheryl Sandberg, Marissa Meyer, Ginni Rometty, Patricia Woertz and Mary Barra, just to name a few – one can only hope we see more brands get with the times.



The End of the (Barbie) World

In an age where sentiment has moved from "My Fair Lady" to "FLAWLESS", appealing to women for who they really are, not outdated stereotypes, is a cultural imperative for brands.

Take Barbie, for example. In a Hail Mary attempt to bring the controversial doll into 21st century realness, Mattel introduced ‘Entrepreneur Barbie.’ Instead of taking the opportunity to make the business-savvy doll look more realistic (perhaps a bit older, perhaps a bit more creative), Mattel chose to simply replace Malibu Barbie’s bikini with a pink dress and patent leather pumps, a smart phone and a nice briefcase-ish handbag.

Barbie’s #unapologetic advertorial in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue last month paid off for Mattel, confirming the brand’s desire to add to the “empowered female” conversation, with Barbie letting everyone know that it’s OK to be a model and wear a bikini and saying, “Today, truly anything is possible for a girl … let us place no limitations on her dreams.”

“We wanted to start a conversation,” said Lisa McKnight, senior vice president of marketing for Mattel in North America. In that sense, it worked. But whether it’s the right conversation is a whole other story. Not that we would have expected much more, but why take the time to create a new “role model” if it’s just going to be the same ol’ same ol’?

In case you were wondering, Mattel, here’s what real female entrepreneurs look like.

It’s no wonder that in the face off between Barbie and Mrs. Potato Head, the spud wins.

Speaking of putting limitations on girls’ dreams, Phyllis Schafly recently let out a womanly beer belch against the St Louis Brewery Inc.’s Schafly beer, complaining that the delicious bi-partisan beer is ruining her conservative name. When it comes to creative trademark rights to a name, which brand should win – that of a political naysayer who actively stands against women, or that of a gender-blind beer that fosters local growth and good times? We have our opinion. (Definitely the beer.)

Where some brands have stalled in their efforts or are adopting gross marketing practices such as advertising during the periods of time when women feel the worst about themselves, other brands are making the most of these changing times. Take, for example, the Makers movement, which is literally building a brand around female leaders, or cosmetics brands, such as L’Oreal, Nars, Marc Jacobs and Lancôme, that are celebrating the faces of older women and the many faces of women of color.

It appears that, slowly but surely, brands understand that they can either try to reach women on many levels, or starve them for the attention they deserve.



Creativity is Queen 

When it comes to reaching women in relevant and interesting ways, smart creative is key. Yet, only 3 percent of the creative directors working in the advertising business are women, a frustratingly low percentage.

It’s not surprising then, that only a few brands are visibly striving to shift stereotypes and reach women in new ways in 2014. Perhaps most notably, Leanin.org and Getty Images collaborated to release the Getty Lean In Collection, with the goal of changing the portrayal of women in stock photos. For those who chuckled at the Tumblr Women Laughing Alone with Salad, this is a welcome – and needed – collection.

Getty also weighed in on the issue of how women are viewed through the article, “The Female Gaze,” a super example of creative leading an important dialogue.

Watching how brands communicate with women now and in the future is, in the words of Kat Gordon, founder and creative director of Maternal Instinct,  “the greatest opportunity for brands in this decade.”

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