How the portrayal of women has changed over time as advertising agencies try to build better marketing relationships with women
If you asked an advertising agency to visualize a mom fifty years ago they would probably envision a domestic woman racing through a kitchen cooking a nice meal with one hand while cleaning the floor with the other. Ads depicting this ‘idyllic’ scene have been made in the past, but as time passed by people began to realize that this picture doesn’t truly do justice to the intricacy of women’s everyday lives.
The thought of taking risks make advertising agencies anxious which is why they oftentimes make generalizations (they must think its a safer option), especially when targeting women, by sticking stereotypes such as the perfect suburban housewife or the busy mother that struggles to balance out her work and family life.
“The oft-quoted Greenfield Online Study from 2002 found that 91 percent of women believed that advertisers of every stripe didn’t understand them. Recent research from Insights in Marketing’s i-on-Women unit suggests little has changed over the last decade. Just 17 percent of 1,300 women surveyed said today’s advertisers market effectively to females, while a mere 9 percent believed marketers were effectively communicating to them personally.”
“Part of where they’re missing the boat is, they’re painting all customers with the same broad brushstrokes,” says Tinesha Craig, division director of i-on-Women. “All moms aren’t quite the same. All women aren’t the same. Companies haven’t figured out how to customize their message in a way that’s meaningful. I think they leave a little bit of opportunity on the table because they’re looking at just one aspect of who you are.”
“Marketers have the ability for real-time feedback now like never before,” says Kramer. “Women have the ability to help marketers develop direction and make messages more relevant.”
Data helps advertisers understand what is important to women and how they are unique in terms of how they engage and care about ads.
Every country has a different history meaning that overtime they molded their own distinct values and beliefs (what is morally/ethically correct and incorrect) in today’s modern age. Provided that every country has established their own sense of right and wrong there exists cases where certain ads may be sexist and thus considered globally unacceptable, but there have been numerous situations in the past where an ad was considered sexist in one country but not in others. In France a commercial may be perfectly innocent but scandalous in China, this is because of their different cultural beliefs.
In time multinational corporations made the discovery that the way women are portrayed in advertising may not always be considerate. In Alecia Swasy’s book “Soap Opera: The Inside Story of Procter & Gamble,” the writer discusses the result of an imprudent soap commercial.
“A Camay campaign pitched the soap as making women more attractive to men, a common theme in P&G advertising. The ad showed a Japanese man walking into the bathroom while his wife sat in the tub. Japanese women were offended because it is ‘bad manners for a husband to impose on his wife’s privacy while she is bathing,’ explained Mia Ishiguro, who worked on Camay in Japan. ‘Our consumers resented the breach of good manners and the overt chauvinism of the situation.’”
In the more western countries such portrayal of women would normally not be considered a problem, but in other cultures it may be utterly unacceptable. That is why it is important to understand local attitudes, as it would spare advertisers the potential risk of offending their audience to attain greater success in target markets, particularly if they aim to expand internationally.
Some gender-specific marketing is bound to fail in nearly any country as it passes the boundary of social norms. For example, it was learnt that Reebok’s brand name for a pair of women’s running shoe came from the name of a medieval demon that preyed on sleeping women.
Another situation occurred when Fiat attempted to market a car to Spanish women in a bizarre way by sending what appeared to be anonymous love letters, this made the women feel threatened and insecure.
Author Paul A. Herbig noted in his “Handbook of Cross-Cultural Marketing” that AT&T hadn’t sufficiently researched local attitudes in an advertisement targeting Latinos. In the ad, a Puerto Rican wife says to her husband, “Run downstairs and phone Mary. Tell her we will be a little late.” For European standards, for example, this most likely comes across as totally innocent when in fact the author explains that in many Latin American cultures a wife wouldn’t order her husband to such a thing and that and “almost no Latin would feel it necessary to phone to warn of tardiness, since it is expected”, thus the ad was not so effective.
Silly ad mistakes can drain a budget dedicated to marketing by entirely overlooking their point, plus the ad may never be displayed and thus not seen by the intended audience because of laws and cultural norms.
Companies can avoid international, gender-related and translation blunders if they research in-depth what faux pas to avoid in each country that they plan on presenting their ads.
Times have changed since the 1950s, however when looking back at advertisements from that time one can see how women were shown enthusiastically conducting domesticated tasks and devotedly caring for their husbands in a rather dim light.
The scandalous scenes of sexism are testified through the ads where husbands are shown scolding their wives for not keeping up with their domestic “obligations” in the out-of-date marketing material. Such is the case in the ad for Chase & Sanborn coffee where a man seems to be hitting his wife for not acquiring the best coffee available.