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November 12, 2020

6 Ways Brands Fail to Connect with Women

by Laura Harker

If you’ve ever doubted the purchasing power of women, then you need to take a look at these stats: in 85% of households, women are the primary decision-makers when it comes to buying consumer goods. They also make 81% of the decisions when it comes to grocery shopping too.

With so many women out there making these daily decisions, it would be foolish for any brand to neglect to reach out to them in their branding and marketing. Even worse, it could be detrimental for a brand to try but completely miss the mark when trying to connect to women.

There are many reasons why marketing to women might not work: it could be misplaced humor, excluding certain demographics, or portraying outdated stereotypes. Whatever the reason, these mistakes should never happen in the first place as it could result in women turning away from a brand.

Want to make sure your marketing to women always hits the mark? Make sure you steer clear of these notorious mistakes.

6 Ways Brands Fail to Connect with Women

Glorifying Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is a serious issue that many women around the world have to live with. One of the most publicized instances of domestic violence occurred between rapper Chris Brown and singer Rihanna. It would be tasteless for a brand to use this as part of an advertising campaign, right? That would be obvious for most brands but not to Snapchat.

In 2018 the social media platform ran an advert to promote a game that referenced Brown’s 2009 assault.

This didn’t go unnoticed by Rihanna who hit out at the brand in an Instagram story with a direct call-out to the brand: “I’m just trying to figure out what the point was with this mess". I'd love to call it ignorance, but I know you ain't that dumb."

Other famous names, including Chelsea Clinton, took to social media to support Rihanna and denounce the advert. All of this negativity had very serious consequences for Snapchat as $1 billion was instantly wiped off the value of the brand’s parents company Snap Inc. Shares in the company also dropped by 5% overnight.

Marketing to Mums Rather than Women

One very obvious way to dampen your connection with women is if you are exclusive to certain demographics. If you do exclude certain women from adverts and branding then there’s no way they will consider you when they are looking for new products and services.

As Tanya Williams, author of A Childfree Happily Ever After, explains how brands that only target mums are guilty of this:

One of my pet peeves, and something I am trying to change, is how most brands think they need to market to mums not women. I am so sick of seeing ads for anything to do with the house and lifestyle making an assumption you are a mother if you are a woman!

Current ad agencies and marketers need to move with the times and understand that not every woman is a mother. In fact close to 1 in 4 women are now choosing to be childfree so that means marketers need to keep up and reflect what is actually happening in real life, not what they think is.

Appealing to mothers could have been a savvy strategy a few decades ago when the average number of births was higher than it is today—for instance, the current birth rate in the UK is the lowest it's been since 2006 - but now adverts directly targeting mothers are often met with disdain.

Adverts that do portray mothers are often at risk of being labeled as sexist. Just take this Asda advert from 2013.

In the TV advert for the UK supermarket giant, we see a tired mum having to do all the hard work associated with getting a family ready for Christmas—doing the big food shop alone with kids; sorting out all the decorations; cooking the big dinner.

Not only does this advert exclude women who aren’t mothers, but it also resulted in a large backlash as many people thought the trope of the stressed-out mother preparing Christmas was incredibly sexist. TheUK advertising watchdog received 600 complaints labeling the ad as offensive and sexist. However, the supermarket was cleared of this when the watchdog ruled in its favor.

Appealing to mothers might seem innocent on the face of it, although there are two issues for brands that we’ve seen above: failing to include women who don’t have children and potentially being perceived as sexist.

Excluding Women with Disabilities

Appealing to mothers isn’t the only way a brand could be seen as excluding a demographic of women. Using a non-diverse cast of women for adverts and branding is preventing them from connecting to key BAME and other minority groups.

Lisa Cox, an author, speaker, and consultant explains further:

We are only ever presented with a monotype but women of all different ages, sizes, abilities (and more) are consumers with money to spend. This lack of representation is bad for society and bad for business. As a disabled woman, I'm now working with mainstream brands to better educate them around the value of representation—for me and for their bottom line.

The disabled community has a £200 billion spending power, so it would be foolish of brands to exclude disabled women from their marketing campaigns. Not only would a brand be losing out on all this potential spending, but it could also create a huge backlash against them.

Just take a look at what happened to Brazillian Vogue in 2016. The brand used an Instagram post to promote the Brazilian paralympic games showing two of the game’s celebrity ambassadors. However, there was just one problem—neither ambassador was actually disabled and the image had been edited to remove a limb on each of them.

This image, along with the caption “We are all Paralympians” was seen as very bad taste and there was a large media backlash against the fashion brand.

Another brand that has been noted for its use of disabled models is Tommy Hilfiger. The international clothing brand now offers the “Tommy Adaptive” line, which is aimed specifically at people with disabilities. For marketing campaigns around this line, the brand has been working with a lot of disabled models to boot.

Thanks to this move to cater to physically disadvantaged fashion fans, Tommy Hilfiger has seen its revenues and profits increase. The clothing line launched in early 2018 and, along with the brand investing heavily in new data and tech to fine-tune its brand, the adaptive campaign helped push sales to $4.2 billion. That’s a jump from the $3.3 billion reported in 2015.

Brands Not Being Diverse Enough

It’s not just disabled women that brands need to be careful not to exclude. BAME women and those from other minorities have also been left out of many brand campaigns in the past.

Even though the large majority of brands are now including BAME models in their brand marketing adverts, one area there is still a lack of diversity in the use of social media influencers.

The American clothing brand Altar’d State faced criticism over this when they posted from the “blogger adventure” they hosted last year. It was quickly pointed out that all the influencers and bloggers who attended the event were white. The attendees were so similar, in fact, that it was noted they all had blonde hair apart from just the one influencer who was a brunette.

As one Instagram user commented: “Why is your Instagram account all skinny white girls? This is 2019, there are a lot more diverse girls out there who need to be seen. I like your stuff. But this is not OK. Wish there was more diversity in your marketing.”

By inviting just a very niche group of women, the brand was inadvertently showing others that the experience and their clothes are not for them. In effect, it’s showing that the brand is exclusively for thin, blonde white women. In a country where African-American women make up 14% of the population and have a spending power of $1.2 trillion, the brand is missing out on potentially huge sales and revenues.

Excluding Plus-Size Women

There’s one further way brands can exclude women: it’s by not being considerate of the size of models used in all social media posts and adverts.

Claire Jensen, a stylist based in Australia, has personal experience of this:

As a style 14 to 16 in Australia - I find the fit of garments is so out of touch with how women's body shapes actually are at this size. For me, and many of my clients (who are various sizes) the biggest downfall is in pants/trousers/jeans where often, the hips, bottom, and thighs fit tightly, and the waist is far too big.

In Australia, the average woman is a size 14 to 16. But the general size of a curve model is a 10 to 12. So, there is a huge discrepancy there alone. While some brands are stepping up in this department - there is still a lot of work to be done. I don't think using a size 12 "curve" or "plus-size" model is cutting it anymore. For many consumers, and for my clients - they want to see a vast representation of not just different cultures, skin tones, ethnicities, but also shapes. Even brands who utilize influencers to help build brand awareness or boost sales need to start looking outside of sample sizes.

Claire uses the Australian brand Country Road as an example. Even though the brand has recently started to use models from a wider range of backgrounds and ethnicities, they are still lacking in their use of plus-sized models.

As a store that offers up to a size 16 - there's nothing on the site or across their socials to show their garments on someone of this size. So as a customer - it's hard to really know how that's going to look on a curvier shape. I work with a lot of clients who range from a size 12 to a size 20 and so many of them tell me they find it hard to know where to shop based on the fact they can't see someone who reflects their size or shape in marketing or on online stores which deters them from making a purchase.

One clothing brand that felt the negative effects of not creating plus-sized clothing was Lucy & Yak. The brand is known for making ethical and sustainable clothing with a focus on comfort for the wearer. They have done particularly well over the past few years thanks to their smart social media strategy and teaming up with influencers on various platforms.

However, in the background, the brand has constantly been asked by plus-sized consumers why their clothing line wasn’t size-inclusive.

This all came to a head in September 2020 when top Instagrammer Aja Barber called out the brand directly about various issues that included a lack of size-inclusivity, using influencers as free labor, and not appropriately addressing any of the criticism put against them.

The couple behind the brand took to Instagram and posted apology videos, however, these did not go down well with the customer base who saw them as merely performative.

If this was bad enough, things quickly got worse. The brand left the comments under their apology video unmoderated for a full 24 hours. During this time there was a lot of racist and bigotted abuse left targeting Aja Barber for originally speaking out. Eventually, the brand was forced to publish a statement in which they, amongst other things, outlined action points they could use to create a safer space for followers online and promised to create an advisory panel.

Brands Downplaying Women’s Successes

Have you ever noticed how some brands continue to portray women in the kitchen rather than being in charge of the boardroom? This is something that Lisa Sweeney of Business in Heels notes:

Brands continue to fail women with ongoing stereotyping and the downplaying of success. It is amazing that successful entrepreneurs who have made it, who now have big teams and an office continue to be depicted in their kitchen. When was the last time you saw a male entrepreneur in his garage?

Incredibly inspirational women end up with more coverage about their appearance than their content and we still are given a perception that you need to be a slim well-dressed woman to be successful.

One such patronizing advert campaign is the “Girl Boss” advert from People Per Hour. Launched across London tube stations in 2019, the advert showed a laughing woman alongside the caption “You do the girl boss thing. We’ll do the SEO thing.

As Emma Sexton pointed out on Twitter, it could have been massively improved by saying “You do the CEO thing, we’ll do the SEO thing.”

But instead of downplaying the girl’s success by simply referring it to the patronizing “girl boss thing,” People per Hour put themselves at odds against women in their target audience. As a result, there was a huge backlash on social media and, after receiving complaints, the Advertising Standards Authority banned the advert.

Final Thoughts

All of the brand mistakes outlined above could have easily been avoided, usually by ignoring stereotypes and including a wider variety of women in all advertising materials. The results of not doing so can be devastating to brands: from a PR nightmare to a significant loss in sales and revenues.

To protect your brand from these issues, think carefully about women as your target audience. Listen to them as a diverse group and consider what they want to see in targeting advertising. What motivates them? What are their needs and wants? And then you should be able to create brand marketing that connects with women and inspires them to check out your brand.

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