From the editor's desk

Images of newly empowered women challenge marketing stereotypes

By Hank Schultz contact

- Last updated on GMT

Getty Images
Getty Images
Product marketers will need to wrap their heads around new visions of women as this segment becomes every more powerful in the dietary supplement market.

The raw numbers are telling: According to the 2017 CRN Consumer Survey on Dietary Supplements, 79% of women reported taking dietary supplements.  That’s significantly more than the results for men, of whom 73% said they are regular users.

But who are these women? Some data seem to suggest that women make supplement purchases not only for themselves but for their families. But marketing to women in an assumed role of household quartermaster (except when it comes to purchases for their children specifically) seems passé, if not outright insulting.  So, in this era when one is advised to be especially mindful of the messaging used to communicate to women, what is a marketer to do?

 I am, of course, poorly qualified to guide this rumination. But we are tasked as jack of all trades journalists with trying to be experts in the topic of the day, so here goes.

Stereotypes that pervaded advertisements

When I was young, there seemed to be more of a consensus about the nature of the female consumer.  I’m not claiming this was justified, but the conventions and stereotypes were pervasive.

Society determined gender roles for men and women back then, and woe be to any who transgressed them. Men believed they had the right to tell women how to behave and what they ought to like, and marketers of products, if they adhered to these boundaries, could at least feel fairly confident of hitting their intended demographic.

Did women really care about ‘ring around the collar’ as much as the ubiquitous TV commercials might have led one to believe? I doubt it. But by sticking to the script, the soap sellers at least got their product name out there, and probably drove some sales just by brand recognition when it came time to buy more laundry detergent.  I don’t have any data to back this up, but I have to believe those ads actually worked, or they wouldn’t have run on TV so much.  I know they are burned into my personal memory banks.

New visions of women

Now, however, new visions of women are coming to the fore. This is exemplified most powerfully by the recent success of the US Women’s National Team at the soccer World Cup. Viewers were treated to the spectacle of Megan Rapinoe, an unabashedly gay superstar, go toe to toe with the world’s most powerful man. And she seems to have come out ahead.

New visions of the diversity of women are gaining prominence as well. Which lawmakers are most in the public eye at the moment?  It is the four female US Representatives of color who have been maligned by the President.

When trying to appeal to these newly empowered, self confident women, marketers will have to tread a careful line.  Everyone would like to look good, of course. But images must be carefully chosen to represent confidence without coquettishness.

Beauty-from-within illustrates issue

Beauty products, both topicals and beauty-from-within ingestibles, sit right on this razor’s edge.  I talked with Colorado entrepreneur Kristie Mather, founder of the brand Tilvee Eco Ethical Skin Care. She said the very regulations that govern the category could help to feed into the stereotype that a woman cares first and foremost about her skin, hair and nails.

“If you really look at the FDA definition of what a cosmetic is, it is defined as something that beautifies. That’s it, and you can’t say anything else or it will be classified as a drug. That sort of perpetuates this stigma that women are vain and shallow,” ​Mather said.

Nevertheless, she said she gets continual inquiries from customers about how to shift their diets to improve their skin. And she said she has seen more and more awareness of the role of low level systemic inflammation in the health of many systems in the body, including the skin.

The Jack Webb theory

Which points to what I'll call the Jack Webb (of TV’s Dragnet​ fame) theory of product marketing: Just stick to the facts, ma’am. Women of all stripes do of course have some needs specific to them. But to my mind the best way to reach those consumers is not to play to the insecurities of women whether overtly or in an implied way (i.e., you’re too fat, you’re not pretty enough, your hair lacks the proper luster, etc.), but to identify true health needs and provide products specific to those needs. 

The most respectful, inclusive and honorable way to market products to women? Have a product with some actual benefits and some data to support those benefits. And stick to those facts.

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