It’s no secret that some marketers prefer to target women: Global brands like Unilever allocate approximately 70% of their Facebook advertising budget to ads targeting female-only audiences (source: Pathmatics) and even local, Scottish, brands in traditionally masculine industries are starting to target women – with AdExchanger reporting that The Glenlivet spent a whopping 52% of it’s marketing budget appealing to female consumers in 2019. (Source: AdExchanger)
Surprised? We were too, but the team over at The Glenlivet aren't alone. Diving into budget reports, meeting minutes and marketing strategies reveals that a significant number of house-name brands are shifting towards a model that prioritises female audiences.
We’re not talking about obvious brands like Boohoo, Mac or L'Oréal either: Lynx body spray targets women (source: Pathmatics), presumably because their eponymous deodorants are often bought as gifts for well-meaning but unhygienic men.
Porche also spend a surprising amount of money marketing to women; enlisting tennis star Maria Sharapova to help them break into new markets and reach beyond their typical, male-dominated audiance (source: Sports Illustrated).
And then there's the Royal Bank Of Canada, who spend approximately 95% of their advertising budget targeting females in Canada and the US (source: Media Radar) with ads like the one below, which mixes influencer-style native advertising with messaging designed to really ham up the brand's ability to be a force for positive change.
The question is, why do marketers target women – and is it a sensible strategy? If you’re a marketing manager, a CMO or a CTO working for a B2B or B2C brand, you probably feel some pressure to jump on the bandwagon, and start pointing a significant percentage of your advertising budget at female audiences.
If Porche, Unilever and The Royal Bank of Canada are at it, it must be a winning strategy.
But it’s important to look before you leap. Ask yourself why big brands are focusing on women, and take the time to understand whether it’s a good fit for your business.
Why Target Women?
In simple terms, it’s because marketers think women are the people making the buying decisions. Research cited by Forbes suggests that women drive 70-80% of consumer purchasing decisions (source: Forbes), and more detailed research by Girl Power Marketing shows that this influence isn’t limited to household goods, cosmetics and clothes. (Source: Girlpower Marketing)
In fact, marketing research shows that women are responsible for buying:
- 91% of new homes
- 66% of PCs and consumer electronics
- 92% of vacations
- 65% of new cars
And if that wasn’t enough, studies show that women control approximately 80% of all additional spending, including the money spent on grocery shopping, buying luxuries and weighing on big ticket purchases like smartphones or new furniture.
In total, experts think that women control over $31.8 trillion of worldwide spending. (Source: Catalyst)
But that doesn’t mean that you should race off and start pointing your ads at female-only audiences. Not just yet anyway.
Some Important Considerations
It’s important to remember that ‘female’ is a very broad descriptor, and that women are not a homogeneous group of like-minded individuals.
We shouldn’t have to say it, but they’re as complex as their male counterparts, and they make purchasing decisions based on a multiplicity of complex and interdependent factors like their level of income; their country of residence, their occupation or their hobbies.
Marketers get into a lot of trouble when they start to oversimplify complex problems, and treating ‘women’ as a monolithic audience is a perfect example.
If you are marketing to women (and you know that this is the right decision), try to further refine your targeting by thinking about more specific attributes. Things like age and income, interests, job title, area of residence or level of education.
Targeting specific demographics gives you the opportunity to create ads that really resonate with your target audience. It also reduces your chances of dropping a clanger like Chick Beer’s infamous attempt to sell beer to women in pink boxes, with a little black dress logo and a calorie count at the centre of every label:
Yes, we hate it too. This particular stunt cost Chick Beer a lot of good will. It's all-too-obvious attempt at 'girl power' marketing left a lot of women feeling alienated and annoyed with the brand (source: Eater) and the brand lost a lot of traction in the fallout.
More to the point, they missed an opportunity to actually reach a relatively under-served demographic (women aged 21-65 who enjoy drinking beer) and failed to build buzz around a product that could have made a real splash.
Taking the time to scope out a list of desirable attributes gives you space to think about who you really want to reach with your hard-earned advertising budget and 9 times out of 10, that isn’t going to be all women, irrespective of income, hobbies or job title.
But if you do run through a list of secondary attributes and you still think your product or service is a good fit for women generally, make sure that your ads and assets are up to the job!
If You Do Decide To Target Women, Make Sure You Do It Properly
Decided to copy Unilever and target women indiscriminately? Fantastic. Let’s make sure you get it right.
There’s a right way to target females...
Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign won a Shorty award because it was sensitive, inspiring and touched on something that resonated with the majority of women. (Source: Shorty Awards)
HelloFlo’s First Moon Party video is also widely lauded for being sympathetic, hilarious and relatable. Lampooning a lot of stereotypes and speaking directly about a subject that’s typically avoided in mainstream media adverts. (Source: CNN).
Studies suggest that these empowering and carefully-targeted campaign really resonate with their target audience, with 71% of women polled saying that Dove’s #SpeakBeautiful campaign had made them feel more attractive or confident. (Source: ReferralCandy)
But examples of relatable ‘girl only’ adverts are few and far between.
...And there’s a wrong way to market to women
Most gender-specific advertising misses the mark completely, with IBM’s cringe-inducing “hack a hairdryer” campaign receiving tonnes of backlash for being sexist and patronising.
A similar campaign featuring patronising pink power tools also caused a veritable storm on social media back in 2020, alienating huge swathes of Pink Power's target audience and sending would-be customers running straight into the arms of their competition. (Source: Forbes)
And it's worth noting that even seemingly-innocuous attempts to market to women using “girl boss” language, with People Per Hour's recent attempt to differentiate themselves by appealing to entrepreneurial women falling on deaf ears. (Source: Marketing Week)
There is a very real cost to these mistakes. Studies show that poorly-received advertising can really hurt a brand's bottom line (source: Penji), and research from Statista suggests that 52% of women automatically distrust gender-specific advertising – calling it inappropriate and raising concerns over the misuse of personal data. (Source: Statista)
So if you’re not sure that you can produce authentic, sensitive and resonant marketing assets that appeal to the majority of women, it might be better to stick with gender-neutral ads.
Need Help Defining or Refining Your Target Audience?
We’re here to help. If you’ve read all this and you’re not sure how to target women, whether you should be targeting women or whether you really understand your target audience at all, our in-house marketing experts will set you straight.
We can help you profile your ideal customer, and create targeted marketing campaigns that drive tangible results. No painful missteps or cringe-inducing ads in sight. With 20+ years of real-world marketing experience, we're also well-placed to help you refine your messaging for specific sub-sets of a gendered audiance.
In 2022, targeting female engineers, doctors, researchers or marketing managers isn't challenging. You just need a decent marketing strategy, a good team and the willingness to continually refine your messaging as a campaign rolls out.