Are brands responsible for advancing women's issues?
The short answer is YES.
To find out what women are thinking about brands and the way they portray women, we did something radical: we went straight to the source and asked them.
In the age of #MeToo, women across generational divides, races, and industries are banning together to empower one another and fight for equality in women’s issues and beyond. But, they don’t think they should be doing it alone.
Women are well aware of the power of advertising. Even the oldest cohort of women today grew up with exposure to current fashion and beauty trends in the pages of teen magazines, such as Seventeen, first published in 1944.
If advertisers want women’s loyalty, shouldn’t they be fighting for a better life for them?
Seven out of 10 women say YES!
We conducted a survey of 500 women over the age of 40. We asked them whether brands should play a role in advancing women’s issues and a vast majority said yes.
And, those same women told us that so far, advertisers aren’t doing a very good job of it. 76% of women we surveyed said that brands not only aren’t advancing women’s issues, they’re also playing a negative role in the perception of women over 40.
Not only that, 80% of women feel that brands are perpetuating negative gender stereotypes. So, not only are brands not advancing women’s issues, they’re actually counterproductive to women’s fight for equality and to be seen as strong, fierce, smart individuals.
She’s more than Mom
One of the most important things that women want brands to know about them and to support is that women aren’t just moms. Mom is only one title they may hold and they want brands to recognize that in their advertising.
Our survey found that nine out of 10 women wanted to see women in more roles than “mom.”
Women may be mothers, but their children aren’t the sole focus of their life. There’s a reason that over half of the women we surveyed said that brands got the idea of motherhood wrong.
In the U.S., every cohort of women saw a decline in birth rate except for women in their 40s, which saw an increase. More women are choosing not to become mothers or are choosing to wait for motherhood.
These decisions are changing what motherhood looks like, and women want brands to reflect their reality today, not motherhood of the 1950s. Women who are choosing to become mothers are doing so later in life and are doing so in conjunction with the other roles they already have: professional, friend, breadwinner, caretaker, superstar.
If brands want to win over these women they need to stop thinking of women only as mothers and present them in the many hats that they wear daily. And when they portray motherhood they should do it with the richness and fullness of reality.
She doesn’t need makeup to feel sexy
When we asked women in our survey how brands portrayed them, 84% said that brands systematically overestimated their preoccupation with physical appearance.
Women may want to invest in self-care products that make them feel healthier, more beautiful, and more alive, but that doesn’t mean their only care in the world is their physical experience.
And, most brands are just missing the mark. “Too many brands ignore this age group or are solely focused on selling us incontinence products, medication, or things to make us look younger / thinner.”
Women have figured out the secret: they don’t need what advertisers are selling to feel younger, sexier, or stronger. They already are all those things, and they know it.
She’s educated and intelligent
What are brands missing when they market to women as though they are only mothers or only care about looking younger and thinner?
They forget she’s independent, well-educated, and smart.
Of the women we surveyed, 80% thought that brands systematically underestimated their intelligence. Ouch.
No one wants to be told that they’re dumb. Instead of advertising to the surface-level, stereotypical impression of women, it’s time for brands to look a little bit deeper and find out who they really are.
Today women are more likely than men to have a college degree. And, for the 8th year in a row, women earned the majority of doctoral degrees awarded in the U.S. in 2016. Brands that market to women as beauty-crazed, stay-at-home mothers are simply out of date.
She’s got money to spend
If your brand isn’t interested in supporting women’s issues simply because it should, we have some data that could persuade you.
Women have money. A lot of it.
Women control over 60% of the personal wealth in the U.S. and make over 85% of all household purchasing decisions. And they’re not just spending their husband’s earnings. In 40% of households, women are the primary breadwinners.
Women today have money to spend and they’re interested in spending it on brands that promote women’s issues and that support an authentic vision of who women are today.
Again, the women we surveyed said it best: “Brands don’t seem to have captured that ‘ageless’ feeling that a lot of us feel. Ads for women 40+ are about slowing down . . . not living incredible lives that we earned and can afford.”
Women are out building careers, getting an education, spending money on what they want to, and focusing on living, not counting their wrinkles. Brands that can harness the full power of women, promote the diversity and authenticity of the female experience will be primed to harness the dollars these women have and are willing to spend.
Women understand the power of the messages and stereotypes portrayed in advertising. They want that power to be used to support them and change attitudes, not hold them back in history.