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You’re Doing it Wrong: Advertisers Still Don’t Get Women

Updated: Jul 5, 2019

We’ve all become so accustomed to bad advertising to women that it’s pretty much accepted as the only option for  “the other half”.  It could be easily blamed on the male dominated ad industry, or sexism so baked into society that stereotypes are par for the course, or even that women themselves perpetuate these myths. The correct answer would be: all of the above, and then some. All of this should not be surprising considering that a mere 3% of  advertising creative directors are women, yet shockingly 85% of women make all household purchases. One would  think marketers would be kowtowing to this powerful demographic, but ironically that’s not the case, given the boys’ ad network. The bottomline? Nine out of 10 ads  get it wrong when marketing to women—and has been doing it so long, it’s considered “normal”.  Let’s stop these embarrassing, hideous practices before I go ballistic and start acting like a woman in a period commercial.

Let’s cover the most grievous errors that we all take for granted:

Daily Rituals Become a Sex Show 

If I had a dollar for every ad that showed a woman lovingly taking chocolate into her mouth like it was much more than just a gastronomical delight, I would be able to buy Hershey’s outright. Talk about food porn, not to mention feeding that stereotype—literally—that women somehow have a special “relationship” with the cocoa bean. Or what about the decades-long campaign from Herbal Essence  where a woman is having a “hairgasm” while sudsing up. Or the lotion commercials where you wonder where else that bottle has been, given the sultry smile on the actress’s face? It’s time to retire these over-the-top sexualized ads and let women eat their food, scrub up in the shower, and do their other every day tasks the way normal people do. Sure, it’s not as tantalizing, but we could actually relate to it. Think: Dove Real Beauty campaign  (no surprise this was dreamed up by two of the women of the 3% creatives in the ad biz).

I See Food Walking

From having a personal relationship with chocolate to hallucinating about a larger-than-life  apple pie walking across your kitchen, the ad industry loves to see women on a diet, and then struggle with visions of food prancing around the house, office, and other random places (and  then get on the requisite scale at some point). I don’t know about you, but when I’m hungry, I get cranky and want to stab someone or something, not stare at giant potato chips invading my personal space. Either way, the message is: eat our low-fat meals/diet bars/cardboard  crackers and drink our diet shakes/light alcohol/magic elixirs and you too will eliminate crazy sights of Epicurean delights. Here’s what I say to advertisers: stick a fork in it. Apparently, I’m not the only one. Check out this spoof of all them jumbled together.

Just Say No to Pink

News flash: not all women love pink. In fact, we’re pretty sick of the never-ending  attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator for  ladies. Of course, the textbook case for “When Pink Marketing Goes Bad” is  Bic Pen For Women, which became a viral laughingstock in its pathetic attempt to appeal to women (props to Ellen for her rant about it). And yes, there was even a pink car marketed by Honda, but it thankfully greatly overestimated womens’ fascination with the color. And don’t forget about the pandering to breast cancer research each October when marketers splash pink on their products to get more sales (only 1% or less and the rest is pocketed; read my post about the documentary Pink Ribbons for the back-story. I say give directly to your favorite breast cancer research organization instead).  Of course we all know the genesis for pink since it starts at birth. Humans are designated and “branded” pink for girls or blue for boys for life (then again, when was the last time you saw products for men advertised in blue? Black and camo is more like it). Either way, let’s start treating women like women, rather than bubble gum pink little girls.

The Man Always Saves the Woman

For some reason in advertisements trying to appeal to women, there is always a guy that shows up to “help” the damsel in distress: whether it’s to help clean our homes, prepare our favorite recipes, or any other task we just can’t seem to handle. Think: an animated Mr. Clean (he’s not even human, geez), a hot Mr. Plumber, or Fabio to explain the benefits of switching to fake butter. The message is that we need help from a man. Ironically, when tried to turn the tables, and use the stereotype of women feeling intimidated buying a car without a man, it failed epically and was termed “sexist”. Why? No one liked that blatant stereotype shoved in our face. Yet every day we put up with sexism in ads and don’t say a word.

Ad Nauseum

I could go on with examples, but this is a blog post, not a book. Advertisers need to get with the times and understand that women don’t need to be dumbed down, sexualized, or stereotyped to get our attention (or try to appeal to mens’ libido). The glass ceiling in advertising  is incredibly low—remember that 3%—we need more women making decisions about the content of ads we see. Until that happens,  it’s time that the 85% making those purchasing decisions take a stand.

Female brain graphic: Dr. Ute Habel 


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