by Geoff Gillette
Advertising has always been about getting people to say "Yes" to something. Whether it was a product, a service or an idea, advertisers have always tried to find their target audience, the sweet spot in their demographics that has the highest buy potential.
What happens when that targeted approach goes a little (or a lot) too far?
As times changed, advertisers adapted in many ways, but there are still some areas where savvy marketers can grow and learn. One of those is gender targeting. Sure, there are some areas where it wouldn’t make sense to include the opposite sex in your marketing, but by and large gender roles have blurred to the point where targeting one sex over the other not only cuts out half your audience but engenders a negative response.
Jif peanut butter’s slogan, “Choosy Moms Choose Jif” hearkens back to a day when only the women did the shopping. Times have certainly changed, but apparently Jif hasn’t seen any need to change that model. Not only does their website still refer to moms choosing Jif, but one whole tab of their site is devoted to Choosy Moms.
In mom-centric ads the fathers are either depicted as not present or completely clueless dunces. As a father of four (and one who was a stay-at-home dad for several years) I find such advertising off-putting.
By the same token, there have been several ad campaigns over the years where the central message has been "this is for men, women need not apply." One of the more memorable would be the Dr. Pepper10 ads from a few years ago. More recently though, CokeZero has jumped on that bandwagon, with ads that reinforce the message that sports are for men. I’d have to assume that there are an equal number of ladies out there who enjoy some good professional sports, so why create a targeted campaign guaranteed to offend half your audience base?
Or looking at the recent Carl’s Jr Superbowl ad, what’s the central message here? That only guys eat hamburgers? Or is it reverse psychology, trying to get all the waif-like supermodels to finally eat a cheeseburger and look like normal human beings? I’ll stick with the first erroneous assumption about guys and burgers. Adweek had a great piece on reversing those types of roles in commercials.
While on the subject of food, why are the majority of commercials aimed at either losing weight or eating healthy only aimed at women? An entire Weight Watchers ad revolves around the evolution of a woman’s butt. So, is the message here that women are the only ones who still need to lose weight and look good? Are we really perpetuating that body-shaming myth that men can look like whatever but ladies have to be a size 6?
And in those ads where the woman is being enticed to eat that healthy snack, what is the reasoning behind it? To be healthy, avoid high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes? No, it’s to look good in that ‘little red dress’ or so that they can be allowed to eat that slice of chocolate cake later. What’s the messaging there? And why do men get a pass?
They say that any press is good press, but if your ad campaign is generating the kind of negative attention that many of these gender-targeted ads have, then at some point there is a law of diminishing returns. The poor word-of-mouth and loss of audience won't be worth a trending hashtag when that hashtag is hijacked by those who hate your message.
Tell us what you think in the comments. Do gender-targeted ads tick you off or entice you to buy?