Marketing to women has never been more important—or easier, it would seem. Every brand is now expected to make an effort, and fortunately, the formula is simple: Celebrate women for being women; offer them a feminist-sounding brand message; make sure to communicate your product was created with the goal of empowering them, and that’s why they need to buy it.
But the logic is reductive and circular: Empowered women need your brand to empower them because without your brand, they’re not empowered.
It’s a marketing booby-trap that’s perpetuating a new stereotype: The Empowered Woman. Ironically, the message repeated to these women is, “You are not really empowered, but you want to be, don’t you?” And its simplistic overuse is beginning to make lots of women angry.
Consider the reactions of these three new campaigns designed to target The Empowered Woman:
1. Vera Bradley. The handbag designer surely had good intentions to celebrate empowered women with a campaign called “It’s Good to be a Girl.” But unfortunately, most of the reasons are insipid and superficial: Girls, it’s ok to need five shades of lipstick! Girls, we get to eat ice cream after a breakup! Girls, we’re lucky we get our wine poured first!
Women didn’t embrace the message, and took to social media to ridicule the company for infantilizing women as girls, ignoring real gender issues like the wage gap, and demeaning women with antiquated ideas of what they care about most. Many questioned the need for Vera Bradley handbags in the first place.
2. Wrangler. The intention of the “More Than a Bum” campaign launched in the UK this week was, as the marketing director, Ilaria Pasquinelli, said, for women to “focus on what really matters in her life, with what really makes her her." Unfortunately, the ad focuses on what really matters to Wrangler. Their bums.
Even though the 3-minute film features musical performer Kimbra, Olympic volleyball medalist Francesca Piccinini, and the dancer and choreographer Nikeata Thompson, women still found the empowerment message insulting. As one particularly cheeky consumer expressed: “You have severely underestimated your audience. We are beyond this kind of patronizing, piss-weak 'feminism'.” Bummer for Wrangler.
3. Cosmopolitan UK teamed up with European automotive maker SEAT to design a car just for the empowered women, complete with “exclusive design and thoughtful feminine touches.” Women are meant to be attracted to the car by its Candy White color, its headlights designed in an “eyeliner shape, emphasized in the same way makeup emphasizes the eye,” and a “jeweled, bicolor rim design.” Oh, and the car has a handbag hook, too. But best of all, the car is touted for being “easy to park,” because, you know how empowered women have trouble parking, especially when their nails are wet.
This campaign has truly incensed women in the UK, who were not having a good week to begin with. They bashed the two companies all over social media, and took the additional step of starting a petition on Change.org urging the companies “apologize for the mass generalization and for insinuating that all women carry designer handbags, gossip dramatically, need help parking and that all girls 'going somewhere' need a car.” You can sign the petition here.
(Photo via SEAT press release)
Marketing to women has certainly evolved, but as long as marketers continue to play in the sandbox of stereotypes, no matter how modern they are, they are stuck in the past. Brands, be warned. Cross today’s empowered woman, and she will turn her power against you in 140 characters or less.