subscribe: Posts | Comments

Advertisers out of step with women


Jane Osmond
WVoN co-editor

According to, US women account for 85% of all consumer purchases including homes, PCs and vacations.

Specifically, their figures show that women make the main decisions on the following consumer purchases:

  • 91% new homes
  • 66% PCs
  • 92% vacations
  • 80% healthcare
  • 65% new cars
  • 89% bank accounts
  • 93% food
  • 93 % OTC pharmaceuticals

Despite this, apparently many women feel their needs and aspirations are not taken into account by marketeers and so in an attempt to show that women exist as a market, Visible Technologies is to host a free webinar focused on women’s social influence and spending patterns.

Certainly, my experience reflects this: most of the advertising to which I am subjected as a woman is either sexist or ill-informed.

Numerous examples of ‘sexist’ advertising can be found in the travel industry – whether it be cars, airlines or trains.

A visitor from another planet could be forgiven for thinking that women do not drive cars, do not fly and do not take train journeys. Even worse is that when women are present, we are presented as ‘arm candy‘ for the men.

A small ray of hope can be found in the recent banning by the Advertising Standards Authority of a Ryanair advert on the grounds that:

…the women’s appearance, stance and gaze – together with the headline – would be seen as linking female cabin crew with sexually suggestive behaviour and breached the advertising practice code.

Meanwhile, ill-informed ads are also annoying, such as those targeted at older women and men.

These ads are based on what I call the ‘Saga model‘, which assumes that any woman (or man for that matter) aged 50 is  wealthy, child-free and has ample leisure time to enjoy the fruits of their hard-earned labour.

In my world most people 50 and over are still working (or perhaps more accurately looking for work) and/or have caring responsibilities (children, grandchildren, older relatives).

It is to be hoped that the webinar, which takes place on February 21, will address the sexism and ill-informed personas that advertisers routinely use to promote products and thus help them to better connect with this powerful audience.

Debbie DeGabrielle, CMO, Visible Technologies commented:

“Women purchase for themselves, their families and their friends. They make a significant percentage of all purchase decisions and yet advertisers often don’t really understand them, or what motivates them to buy. So why do advertisers constantly appeal to men, when so many of these decisions are being made by women?

In my view it reflects how out of step many advertisers are with today’s purchase decision cycle. We live in a consumer generated content market, where on-line conversations, likes, raves, and recommendations, often spread virally without any intervention from the advertiser. It does not surprise me that if they don’t know how to engage with the consumer in the channel of their choice, that targeting the message appropriately also alludes them”.

Quite apart from engaging with the consumer in the ‘channel of their choice’, surely the real problem is that most companies and advertising agencies are run by men?

For example, the board of Virgin Atlantic boasts only four women out of 14, and Ryanair only one woman out of nine.

Also, according to the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, the overall percentage of women on advertising company executive boards is a paltry 22.4%.

Thus, without an equal presence of women on the boards of companies and advertising agencies, it is not surprising that sexist and ill-informed advertising is perpetuated by a male centric view of the world.

Given that, in the UK at least, women are about to find staying on the career ladder ever more difficult due to public sector cuts and a potential reduction in employment rights, I don’t see a change in sexist and/or ill-informed advertising practices arriving any time soon.

More information on the webinar can be found here.

  1. vicki wharton says:

    My brother worked on the board of directors at one of the top 5 ad agencies – he refers to women as totty, his partner as ‘the wife’ and seems to have no acceptance of women as fellow, equal human beings. Men in the media like to think of themselves as ironically sexist, a kind of yes I’m being sexist but because I know its sexist and am positioning it as a joke that makes it funny, whereas actually I think that many a truth spoken as jest. Men in the media are sexist because they think they are a superior being to women in the same way the British National Party think they are superior to immigrants. Same attitude, just one positioned slightly more truthfully, the other laced in hypocrisy.

  2. Alison Fairgrieve says:

    Good for you Vicki Wharton, but ’twas ever thus. I am old enough to remember all the adverts after WW2 portraying women in spike heels and frilly aprons swooning over hoovers and washing machines generously purchased by a smug looking husband in a lounge suit. There followed a phase in the seventies and eighties when men were made to look silly as they tried unsuccessfully to do housework or mind children. Now I take little interest in ads. unless looking for something specific. Viewers have the power to bypass them on TV anyway and ignore the ads. in magazines or online most of the time.
    What gets my goat is the holiday industry which assumes without exception that holidays are taken in pairs anxious to share minute rooms. The Saga model is still far too prevalent showing incredibly youthful and healthy looking retired heterosexual couples enjoying expensive cruises.
    However, advertisers are only successful if they target their selected audience and get results, so we must assume that even in recession there are plenty of people with the means to take pricey holidays. As people are forced to work ever more years until they are more or less worn out, the golden couples will disappear from the scene. It will be interesting to see how advertising adapts itself to bad times in the next few years. Advertising anyway always wants to present a picture of something to aspire to. It has to pitch it right depending on who it thinks will be able to afford the item or it will go out of business. Just wait and see.
    My advice to all hard up women is to join Youth Hostelling International. You can travel alone or with your families at rock bottom prices and in reasonable comfort. I am a life member and I am 74, meeting plenty of my contemporaries for a good moan in every hostel.

  3. Jane Osmond says:

    Oh Vicki – totty? The mind boggles really.

    • vicki wharton says:

      Yes, really! He was creative director at J Walter Thompson and makes jokes about child abuse, rape etc along with the best of the media types. Whenever I’ve challenged him, he simply starts making ironic jokes about me and infering that any knowledge I have of gender abuse is simply the product of hysterical female genes. I’ve had to stop seeing him as his goading denial just makes me angry, which then just plays into his hysterical female stereotype. Both my brothers and my father was like this, and it allows them to behave like monsters to women whilst completely negating their part in destroying the lives of the women and children around them.

  4. Jane Osmond says:

    Alison, nothing like a good moan in company!

Leave a Reply to vicki wharton Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *