Dear Marketers, Your Future Is Definitely Female

It’s all leading up to a question.

A young woman is dining with her boyfriend. She is visibly nervous as he receives a fortune cookie. Its message alluding to some question confuses him. Her anxiety deepens. At last she kneels and presents him with a ring. This is Stress Test #5182, wherein Claire ignores tradition and asks for what she wants: Andy’s hand in marriage. And it’s all brought to you by Secret. 

Other spots in the unabashedly feminist series include the more provocative Stress#8260 showing Dana, a transgender person, entering the main space of the ladies room to find herself embraced and we’re reminded that there’s no wrong way to be a woman. 

Love the spots or not, in many ways Secret is doing what Secret has done since 1972 when it declared itself “strong enough for a man, but made for a woman.” To arrive here, with an intersectional view of feminism, is not only true to who they are, it’s a sign of the feminist times. 

Secret is not alone in embracing this moment by showing women beyond traditional standards of beauty and feminine roles. And the more brands that join, the higher the probability of someone getting it all wrong. 

Timing is one thing. Purpose is everything.

Brands have always had the tricky job of connecting to big cultural shifts in a way that won’t backfire. We saw that boomerang effect with green brands only to be met with criticisms of “greenwashing” when it turned out to be marketing only. 

Purpose is the difference between amplifying important issues your brand is tackling versus pandering or exploiting a moment. 

Champions for real.

In terms of whether any move into this realm is right for your brand, a better question might be what do you want out of it? This is a question that is larger than an advertising campaign, and it begs you to thoroughly examine whether your brand is really committed. 

You have to want your brand to have empathy for women, and become their champion. That spirit must infiltrate every piece of your process from product development to messaging. And yes, your business practices. 

Really know your consumer. Know yourselves.

Think of your target consumer. Did you picture her interacting with your brand only? Was she white, middle class, and attractive by standard norms? 

If you answer yes to any of these, then it’s time to evaluate if you really know who’s buying into you. Considering every decision throughout your process will help you uncover where your team, without even realizing it, defines women in a very narrow way — and is perhaps guilty of being further out of touch than you realize.

Beware — some of these behaviors are deeply entrenched. And while there may be a risk in changing your thinking, there is most definitely the cost of doing nothing. 

Your own tipping point

The most important thing to remember, however you move forward — and you must move forward — is don’t shoehorn the message in because more brands are doing it. Be real and true. Back it up with your actions. 

Aim to be a force to not just help women feel whatever you want them to feel on a superficial level, but show them they are amazing today, just being who they are. The power is in our hands to be that force for good to avoid “pinkwashing” as the new “greenwashing.” 

So yes, fellow marketers, now is the perfect time to stop selling to women, and start creating for them. All of them.

by Kristin James Head of Strategy HA New York