Brands need to 'get under the skin' of what women want in advertising say senior industry figures

The marketing sector can be a complicated place as new marketing tools and techniques are launched, almost on a weekly basis. Powered by The Drum Network, this regular column invites The Drum Network's members to demystify the marketing trade and offer expert insight and opinion on what is happening in the marketing industry today that can help your business tomorrow.

Brands need to be honest and remain true to their core brand values if their future marketing campaigns are going to remain relevant to women in the years ahead. That was just one of the conclusions drawn by senior female industry figures who took part in The Drum Network and Southpaw's joint panel debate ‘What Women Want: Beyond Feminism in Advertising’ which took place earlier this week in London's Ham Yard Hotel.

The panelists included Inge van Lontringen, beauty director at Cosmopolitan UK, Victoria White, commercial content director at Hearst Magazines, Jaqui Burchell, global marketing director and product development at PZ Cussons, Niki McCartney, strategy director at Southpaw, Debra Hepburn, managing director, RBH, Adam Hinton, photographer #ThisGirlCan, Philippa Roberts, co-author of Pretty Little Heads and the session was compered by Laura Jordan-Bambach from Mr.President and She Says.

Laura kicked off the discussion asking the panel to ‘get under the skin’ of what women want and to pin down what advertisers need to do to reel women in. In light of the femvertising bandwagon that brands are jumping on, the panel explored whether it was just a fad, or whether it was the way forward in the broader societal, cultural and global issue of feminism. From superwoman pressure to skinny shaming, the panel spanned a number of issues that advertisers face when marketing to women.

Cringing at the word itself, the concept of femvertising was applauded, however only when brands did it the right way.

Debra Hepburn of RBH which helped elevate lingerie brand Freya to Coolbrand status, stated that not every brand is doing it right and it just doesn’t work, she said: "Special K for decades has been telling us to pinch an inch in sexy red dresses in sterile environments, now they are telling us to ‘own’ our bingo wings? Why would we eat cereal to then have bingo wings!?"

Debra continued to stress that brand consistency and honesty were the key things that brands need to appeal to women, or else they would lose loyalty and trust.

Niki McCartney of Southpaw followed this statement up by saying that we are in danger of creating an unhappy society in which reality will just never live up to expectations. The concept of the ideal woman has gone too far, with 12 million women saying they feel burnt out. With mental health being the crux of today’s society, advertisers have a responsibility to promote mental wellbeing as well as empowerment to everyone, not just women.

The panel also enthused the importance of an emotional connection between brands, advertisers and their target market. Brands can embrace the femvertising trend, as long as it is in tune with the product. Cosmo’s beauty director stressed that brands shouldn’t be afraid to be playful. In order to be relevant to women today, everything needs to be real, honest and make a connection that makes them feel that with their product, life would be better.

The panel concluded that stereotypes need to be extracted from advertising campaigns. The most important issue when marketing is that you are connecting with humans, and every human should be listened to and provided for, as consumers with spending power. Originality and honesty is the way forward and the way to get under the skin of what women want.

Naomi Taylor

Naomi Taylor is membership manager at The Drum Network, covering members' news, insights and publications.

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