If you’ve ever questioned the buying power of women, check out these stats: in 85% of households, women are the chief decision-makers with regards to purchasing consumer goods. They also make a whopping 81% of the decisions connected with grocery shopping.
With that many women out there making these everyday decisions, it would be unwise for any brand to neglect to connect with them in both their branding and marketing efforts. Worse still, it could be disastrous for a brand to try but thoroughly fall flat when attempting to reach out to women.
There are any number of reasons why your marketing to women may be unsuccessful: it might be ill-conceived humor, ignoring certain demographics, or depicting antiquated concepts. Regardless of the reason, these missteps should never happen to begin with, as it could prompt women to shy away from your brand altogether.
If you want to make certain that your marketing to women always yields results – and who wouldn’t? – be sure to avoid these infamous blunders.
How Brands Fail to Engage with Women
Dignifying Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is a pressing concern that far too many women worldwide have to endure. One of the most highly publicized cases of domestic violence transpired between rapper/singer Chris Brown and pop star Rihanna.
While it would clearly be in poor taste for any brand to exploit this situation as part of an ad campaign, that was apparently not the case for Snapchat.
In 2018, the social media platform promoted an in-app game using an ad that directly made reference to Brown’s 2009 assault.
The ad did not get past Rihanna, who lashed out at Snapchat in an Instagram story with an unequivocal call-out to the social networking site:
Several notable public figures, including Chelsea Clinton, took to social media to back up Rihanna and condemn the ad. All of this caused considerable repercussions for Snapchat, as $1 billion was promptly erased from the value of the brand’s parent company, Snap Inc. Shares in the company abruptly plunged by 5% as well.
Marketing Specifically to Moms Rather Than to Women In General
One clear-cut way to curtail your connection with women is by being restrictive to particular demographics. If you choose to overlook certain groups of women in your ads and branding, there is no chance these women will acknowledge your brand when they’re seeking new products and services.
Tanya Williams, author of A Childfree Happily Ever After, explains how companies that only single out mothers are guilty of this:
“One of my pet peeves, and something I’m trying to change, is how most brands think they need to market to moms not women. I’m so sick of seeing ads for anything to do with the house and lifestyle, making the assumption that you’re a mother if you’re a woman!”
Contemporary ad agencies and marketers must get with the program and recognize that not every woman is a mother. Indeed, nearly 1 in 4 women are now opting to be childfree. In response, marketers must keep pace and exemplify what’s actually happening in reality, not merely what they think is.
Catering to mothers might have been a shrewd strategy a few decades ago – when the average number of births was markedly higher than it is today – but now, ads squarely aimed at mothers often spark contempt and criticism.
Ads that do depict women merely as mothers are frequently characterized as sexist. Case in point, this 2013 Asda ad:
In this television spot for the UK supermarket titan, an exhausted yet ever-exuberant mom is saddled with the difficult task of readying her family for Christmas – from grocery shopping alone with the kids, to seeing to all the decorations, and preparing the big family dinner.
Not only did this ad overlook women who aren’t mothers, it also caused a huge backlash, as many viewers felt the stereotype of the frazzled mother planning the entire Christmas celebration on her own was exceedingly misogynistic. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) – a major advertising watchdog in the UK – received 600 complaints categorizing the ad as offensive and sexist.
Not Including Women with Disabilities
Appealing exclusively to mothers isn’t the only way a brand could be regarded as neglecting a specific demographic of women. Employing a homogeneous cast of women for ads and branding can also prevent companies from effectively reaching out to crucial minority groups.
Lisa Cox, an author, speaker, and consultant explains further:
“We are only ever presented with a monotype – but women of all different ages, sizes, abilities, and more are consumers with money to spend. This lack of representation is bad for society and bad for business. As a disabled woman, I’m now working with mainstream brands to better educate them around the value of representation – for me and for their bottom line.”
The disabled community has over $266 billion in purchasing power, so it would be irresponsible of brands to exclude women with disabilities from their marketing campaigns. Not only would businesses be missing out on all this potential spending, but it could also trigger significant fallout for them.
By way of example, take a look at what happened to Vogue Brasil in 2016. The fashion brand used an Instagram post to promote the Paralympic Games by showcasing two of the game’s celebrity ambassadors. There was just one problem, however – neither ambassador was actually disabled, and the image had been altered to remove a limb from each of the athletes.
This image – alongside the caption “We Are All Paralympians” – was seen as highly insensitive, and media reaction against the brand was swift and intense.
On the flip side, a brand that has been favorably recognized for its use of differently abled models is Tommy Hilfiger. In recent years, the international clothing brand introduced its Tommy Adaptive line, which is exclusively targeted towards people with disabilities. Marketing campaigns centered around this line have featured actual disabled models as well.
Taking the initiative to accommodate physically disadvantaged fashion enthusiasts, Tommy Hilfiger has seen its revenues and profits skyrocket. The clothing line launched in early 2018, and – coupled with heavy investments in new data and technology to modernize its brand – the Tommy Adaptive campaign helped push sales to $4.2 billion, a massive increase from the $3.3 billion it reported just three years earlier.
A Lack of Diversity in Brand Marketing
Many brand campaigns in the past have also notably disregarded women of color. Nowadays, the vast majority of brands incorporate minority models into their marketing ads. However, one realm where there’s still a lack of diversity is social media influencers, a large number of whom are white.
In 2018, the American clothing brand Altar’d State encountered criticism over this very issue when they posted photos from a “blogger adventure” which they had hosted. Followers hastily drew attention to the fact that all the influencers and bloggers who took part in the event were white. In fact, the attendees were so similar that it wasn’t difficult to spot that they all had blonde hair – aside from just one influencer who was a brunette.
One commenter weighed in with this scathing reply: “Why is your Instagram account all skinny white girls? This is 2019! There are a lot more diverse girls out there who need to be seen. I like your stuff, but this is not OK. Wish there was more diversity in your marketing.”
By only involving a very specific group of women, Altar’d State was unwittingly conveying the message that their clothing and this experience were not intended for “others.” In essence, it demonstrated that the brand was designed exclusively for thin, blonde white women.
In a nation where Black women comprise 14% of the population and have a spending power of $1.2 trillion, that the brand was implicitly turning down the potential of huge quantities of sales and revenue – all while discounting a huge segment of the populace (namely non-whites) – was inconceivable.
Excluding Plus-Size Women
Another way that brands can fail to connect with women is by not being considerate of the size of models used in their social media posts and marketing ads.
Claire Jensen, a stylist based in Australia, has personally experienced this:
“As a style 14 to 16 in Australia, I find the fit of garments is so out of touch with how women’s body shapes actually are at this size. For me, and many of my clients – who are various sizes – the hips, bottom, and thighs fit tightly, and the waist is far too big.
“In Australia, the average woman is a size 14 to 16 – but the general size of a curve [plus-size] model is a 10 to 12. So, there’s a huge discrepancy there alone. While some brands are stepping up in this department, there’s still a lot of work to be done. I don’t think using a size 12 ‘plus-size’ model is cutting it anymore. For many consumers, and for my clients, they want to see a vast representation of not just different cultures, skin tones, [and] ethnicities, but also shapes. Even brands that utilize influencers to help build brand awareness or boost sales need to start looking outside of sample sizes.”
Claire mentions the Australian clothing retailer Country Road as an example. Although the brand has recently started to showcase models from a broader range of backgrounds and ethnicities, they’re still not up to scratch when it comes to their use of plus-sized models.
“As a store that offers up to a size 16, there’s nothing on the site or across their socials to show their garments on someone of this size. So, as a customer, it’s hard to really know how that’s going to look on a curvier shape. I work with a lot of clients who range from a size 12 to a size 20 – and so many of them tell me they find it hard to know where to shop, based on the fact they can’t see someone who reflects their size or shape in marketing or on online stores, which deters them from making a purchase.”
One apparel brand that directly experienced the damaging effects of not creating plus-size clothing was Lucy & Yak. Known for producing ethical and sustainable clothing with an emphasis on comfort for the wearer, the brand has done remarkably well over the past few years thanks to their savvy social media strategy and by teaming up with influencers across a variety of platforms.
Be that as it may, behind the scenes the brand has repeatedly been questioned by plus-size consumers as to why their clothing line was not size-inclusive.
This all simmered to a boil in September 2020 when popular Instagrammer Aja Barber confronted the brand directly with a variety of concerns, including a lack of size inclusivity, exploiting influencers as free labor, and not sufficiently addressing any of the criticisms leveled against them.
Lucy & Yak’s founders took to Instagram and posted apology videos, but these didn’t go over well with their customer base – who regarded them as strictly performative.
As if that wasn’t enough, the matter quickly intensified when the brand allowed comments under their apology video to go unmoderated for an entire day. During that time, there was a great deal of racist and bigoted invective aimed at Aja Barber for daring to speak her mind. Ultimately, Lucy & Yak was compelled to issue a statement in which, amongst other things, they laid out “action points” that could be put in place to create a safer space for online followers and vowed to form an advisory panel.
Devaluing Women’s Successes
You might have observed how some brands continue to depict women working in the kitchen instead of calling the shots in the boardroom.
As Lisa Sweeney of Business in Heels points out:
“Brands continue to fail women with ongoing stereotyping and by downplaying their success. It’s amazing that successful entrepreneurs who have made it, who now have big teams and an office continue to be depicted in their kitchens. When was the last time you saw a male entrepreneur in his garage?
“Incredibly inspirational women end up with more coverage about their appearance than their content, and we still are given a perception that you need to be a slim, well-dressed woman to be successful.”
One such condescending campaign is the “Girl Boss” ad from PeoplePerHour. Unveiled across London tube stations in 2019, the ad featured a laughing woman accompanied by the caption: “You do the girl boss thing. We’ll do the SEO thing.”
As Emma Sexton proposed on Twitter, the ad could have been vastly improved simply by changing a couple of words: “You do the CEO thing. We’ll do the SEO thing.”
In minimizing the woman’s success by designating it as the “girl boss thing,” PeoplePerHour risked alienating a significant portion of their target audience. Unsurprisingly, there were serious repercussions on social media, and – after receiving a number of complaints – the ASA banned the ad.
As Megan Thudium, Senior Consultant at MTC | The Content Agency, stated:
“Women are now holding more leadership positions in 2020 (29%) than in previous years. Marketing messaging that still references sexual innuendos or graphics of only men in corporate offices should be challenged. Marketing should speak to the needs of the market, and the women of this market are telling brands ‘enough is enough.’ We demand inclusive marketing.”
Each of the brand blunders described above could have been easily averted, chiefly by challenging stereotypes and featuring a broader lineup of women in all their advertising materials. The aftereffects of failing to do so could be catastrophic for businesses from a public-relations standpoint, not to mention the potentiality of lost sales and revenue.
To safeguard your brand against these and other similar issues, think conscientiously about women as your target audience. Pay attention to them as the diverse group that they are, and ponder what they might want to see in targeted advertising.
What inspires them? What are their wants and needs? By answering these questions, you should be able to craft brand marketing that engages women and motivates them to take a closer look at your business.