women-in-advertisingI posed a deliberately provocative question on Quora the other day after I read that only 3 percent of creative directors are women: “Can men effectively communicate and advertise to female audiences?” Predictably, there was a handful of safe replies, and the prevailing answer was “a creative team doesn’t have to be the target audience, they just need to know the target audience.” But I couldn’t help question it.

There Should Be No Overestimating the Rise of Feminine Power Within the Consumer World

Women spend more than $5 trillion annually (over half of the U.S. GDP) [1] and account for 85 percent of all consumer purchases, including everything from new cars to electronics. But there is still a vast underestimation on the importance of female leadership within creative departments in agencies both here in the U.S. and abroad, which is directly reflected by the sheer imbalance of creative director positions held by women.

In no other time in our history have women wielded so much influence and energy within the world. In the family, community, government, business, celebrity and media, we see that women are taking responsibility for much more than just the household. It is a changing age. The endowed consumer is feminine and in charge of everything she has…and plenty of what he has. What we recognize in the market place is a symptom of a female metamorphosis within our society, and the previous sensibilities that appealed to the big-ticket holder of days gone by are being shed.

Male Dominated Industries Need to Pay Attention

Take for instance the automotive industry: Once considered a man’s domain, women now buy more than half of all new cars in the U.S. and influence up to 80 percent of all car purchases [2]. However, according to Forbes, 75 percent of women surveyed say they feel misunderstood by car marketers and continue to have poor experiences when trying to buy a car. Enter a brand like Truecar (a pricing and information website designed to even the playing field for buyers and dealers) and their aptly named ‘Women Empowered’ sponsorship of the world’s first all-female racing team. Pretty smart, considering 74 percent of male respondents and 62 percent of female respondents agreed “women racers bring fans out to the games” [3] and even smarter when 80 percent of women agreed that they would solidify their brand loyalty if they knew a brand supported female business [4].

What really gives Truecar pole position is the imagination and insight to bring to fruition a property that both men and women can rally behind and bond over. Jennifer Parke from dw+h is the creative director behind Truecar’s Women Empowered.

“Fact is, women are doing all of the buying in this economy,” she says. “It’s important to foster a community and build teams that go against the traditional Mad Men construct. That absolutely means supporting women in advertising but also mixing up the model completely. If you hire for sameness the output will be sameness.”

Changing the Playing Field

That’s just the thing modern day marketers should carefully consider: how to engage such a powerful group of consumers in a way that shifts the current perception of simply ‘knowing’ her, to ‘growing with’ her. This is a tough task for today’s agencies if 97 percent of creative direction is skewed to a male sensibility of ‘knowing’ the female consumer. Stacking your team with the right blend of technical skills, sensibilities and life experiences seems obvious. But empowering female creatives to rise to the top of the industry is something the current male dominated leadership needs to mentor and support — if only to keep their departments diverse and relevant in the changing face of consumerism.

And What Do the 3% Say?

Kat Gordon, the woman behind the 3% Conference, calls a spade a spade.

“In essence, I saw what goes wrong when marketers look nothing like the market,” she said in an interview with Forbes.

That thought seems to be shared and channeled, but perhaps articulated differently by Kate Stanners, executive creative director of Saatchi & Saatchi London, who in a recent “IPA: Women in Work” speech about her department said that “diversity is the answer,” and that the creative department should no longer be considered the last bastion of everything that is awful about advertising. No mincing of words from the 3 percent, and nor should there be — the creative department needs changing, and if Kat Gordon has anything to do with it, next year it will be the 4% Conference.

1. Nielsen/NetRatings
2. Women-Drivers.com, 2010
3. Lyn St James Foundation 2005
4. WBENC

Originally published Jan 11, 2013 12:00:01 AM, updated July 28 2017

Topics:

Leadership