Study Finds Whether International Women's Day Advertising Is Effective

By WomenAdvancing Archives
Cover image for  article: Study Finds Whether International Women's Day Advertising Is Effective

Sunday was International Women's Day, celebrating the quest for women's advancement and equality. While some consider it a day of action, or as inspiration for thoughtful commentary, others view it as an opportunity for feel-good advertising. Those ads aren't always well-received.

Research firm Kearney just completed its 2020 Women Consumers Study, which examines women's reactions to marketing around International Women's Day. The upshot is that female consumers — who dramatically over-index in responsibility for spending decisions, according to the study and to popular wisdom — want more than lip-service. Companies courting women as customers or as employees should take note. The study identified three areas the 1,000 women surveyed said needed attention: equality in marketing, existence of genuine product benefits for women, and that companies "walk the walk" in supporting equal opportunity.

"Stereotypes need to go," says Alex Fitzgerald, a manager in the consumer practice at Kearney who authored the study. "Our study looked at women as consumers to examine the strategies targeting us to see what actually resonates."

Equality in Marketing

One aspect of advertising that resonates with women is when it promotes equality; examples include some of this year's offerings from BMO Harris Bank, Hershey's, and Orange Theory. According to the study, pro-woman/female empowerment marketing influences women's purchasing behavior, with 39 percent of respondents saying it's a primary consideration or that they try to buy from companies that do this type of advertising.

The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, the nonprofit research organization that studies gender representation in media and advocates for equality, both in front of and behind the camera, conducted a study with Google on how viewers respond to YouTube videos that came to a similar conclusion. In the study, marketing content on YouTube featuring female-led and gender-balanced content attracted 30 percent more views than male-dominant videos.

Genuine Product Benefits for Women

Women as a group make a disproportionately high percentage of household buying decisions, the Kearney study says; and when women are doing the buying, they appreciate products made with their needs in mind. The study identified categories where women polled deemed gender-conscious product benefits important, including beauty/personal care, apparel, health, and household products.

For categories where a gender-differentiated approach didn't offer benefits, or where choices in the category were sufficient, the study indicated that differentiation in those areas would not be appealing. For the poll respondents, "shrink it and pink it" (making "women's" versions of items that are typically for men) and brands using female-focused cause marketing that's inauthentic or solely with a profit motive ("the pink tax") are unwelcome tactics.

Sarah Crandall, product manager at The Forem, a career advancement program aimed at moving a million women into leadership roles by 2030, notes that the finding that women want genuine benefits makes sense. "For us, it is the individual woman that is our true focus," she says. That's why the Forem's products are designed to empower women "to maximize their impact in the workplace and take control over their careers," Crandall adds.

Supporting Women's Advancement and Equality

For women in the media and advertising industries, the story of true empowerment in the workplace isn't always rosy. According to the She Runs It Inclusive 100 study last year, women and people of color are actually declining in executive representation and nowhere near parity yet. Many organizations want to change that, and while there is a lot to do, there are many benefits for organizations that take women's advancement seriously.

The Kearney study found that women will pay more for or walk away from brands based on how those brands support the advancement of women.

Fitzgerald says that based on her study, "effectively selling to women requires companies to take an integrated, holistic, and consistent approach, anchored by true gender equality."

Companies need to make sure that everything they do — including talent development, leadership practices, product design, advertising, and public support for women's causes, as well as the language used in job listings or the executives pictured on company websites — reflects their commitment to gender equity. Women are looking at how companies demonstrate their commitment to equality in every way and are making buying decisions, and career decisions, based on that information.

For more on how much influence advertising and media have on women, watch our video, "New Yorkers Talk Media and Self-Image for International Women's Day."

Don't stop now! Stay in the know on women's advancement and equality in advertising, media, and marketing with more from Women Advancing.

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