This summer, the FIFA Women’s World Cup paved the way for an energetic debate around the perception of and treatment of women in sport. The conversation started with football but touched almost every other aspect of recent discourse around women in society. Salary, careers, media coverage, stereotypes, careers and physicality all had a place in the debate.
It’s important to place this into the context of recent social movement and revelations. Not just of exposure of the prevalence of harassment and abuse in the workplace, but also in the way our industry looks at women as consumers. We know that women drive 70- 80% of consumer spending, but we also know that in contrast, marketing has traditionally been created with a male lens. Given the gender skew in leadership roles within the industry, it’s no surprise that decision-making has lent one way. But the good news is, the imbalance is starting to shift and thought leaders such as Cindy Gallop and the introduction of the Glass Lion at Cannes is proof that it is possible. Armed with this data, brands are actively changing and evolving their approach to comms.
Talking to women shouldn’t be complicated
We’re putting real images of women right in the centre of campaigns [Dove] and doing away with stereotypes of what women and girls can and cannot do [This Girl Can]. We’re addressing the most sensitive women-only issues, and telling the world there’s nothing sensitive about them [Libresse], and we’re even trying to fight biases that have permeated the operations of an entire industry [Volvo]. Each of these examples are not only changing perceptions but also changing our views and behaviours.
But what happens when your brand isn’t necessarily trying to communicate a higher purpose, but is challenging themselves around how to talk about their products to their female consumer base? This means not only trying to avoid stereotypes, biased language or other previously assumed aspects of this audience, but also trying to find out more about them in the modern day – how they spend their time, what they spend their money on, what their interests are and what they talk about.
The data sources we have to hand are plentiful, and they can tell us a lot of quite specific information about women in certain segments of society at different ages and in different geographies. But interpreting this data and being distinctive from other brands can be tricky, because – no surprises – it’s a hugely diverse audience. A failure to get this right means the resulting creative or campaign could end up being vague, offensive or worse – a half-hearted attempt to address gender inequality. Pritt Stick’s glue for girls and Protein World’s beach body are examples that come to mind.
Being binary doesn’t cut it
All this can be confusing as we’re trying to figure out the female audience as a half of our society. Trying to appeal to a group that had not been given equal representation before is the right thing to do, but there is no quick win.
What has been overlooked too many times are mindsets. There are reasons why those great efforts to change the way we talk to women have worked. Those campaigns did not appeal to a binary view of women or even women vs men, what they did was tap into different mindsets. Mindsets aren’t exclusive to any one gender, but they are shared beliefs, world views, and ways that people identify themselves. Dove didn’t just show a real side of female beauty, it gave people comfort in the connection between what they see in the media and what they see in their day to day lives. In short, it proved that beauty is not binary. This Girl Can didn’t just challenge stereotypes of women in sport, it proved that sport is not synonymous with elite. Volvo’s appeal was not only to its customers, but also to the industry. Volvo spoke to a growth mindset – the status quo can be the death of a business, and if we don’t change, we can’t grow.
A better understanding of mindsets.
As conversations around female social and political movements continue, and brands adapt to ensure they stay relevant, we should remember the challenges and beliefs that sit behind these movements. We’re not just trying to win over a gender type, we’re here to appeal to shared beliefs, hopes and fears.
Parity is significant for progress but how that’s achieved offers a platform for creativity.