On Wednesday 1st June, we were joined by speakers from Karmarama and Motherland for the first in a series of events focussed around different demographics.
We explored how organisations are working harder to engage with women today, examining well-executed efforts, and critiquing others that are missing the mark.
Our panel of speakers shared their perspectives on everything from culturally attuned-campaigning and new product innovation, helping us break down this broad demographic by looking in detail at the varying demands of different women – from millennials to mothers. YCN Creative Researcher Ally Waring also presented some examples from our own research, showing the current state of advertising and communication are — and where there is still more work to be done.
We were joined by Philippa Dunjay, Planner at marketing communications agency, Karmarama, where she has gained extensive experience helping clients develop smart strategies to communicate with women in ways that depart from staid stereotypes.
Joining Phillipa was Charlotte Philby, Co-Founder of Motherland – an online destination for 'women who happen to be mums'. Formerly an editor and writer at The Independent, Charlotte conceived of Motherland as an antidote to the saccharine-sweet, patronising and polarising publications so often aimed at new mums. Published by Protein, the content is produced by a roster of high-profile journalists and creatives, and has recently expanded into an online store, with a programme of inspiring and educational events alongside. Charlotte and her team are beginning to partner with brands to produce sensitive content, and finding new contexts through which to engage her growing audience.
If you contribute to a visual culture, you have a duty to it
As Pip eloquently put it, the role of advertisers, marketers, or designers involves representing culture as it is, and, importantly, shaping it as you want it to be in the future. The images and messages you create and disseminate have a tangible social impact — the way women are represented shapes the way they are perceived. Too often this impact can be negative, with advertising offering only narrow stereotypes of what a woman is and can be. Whether that’s greater ethnic diversity, images that encompass a broader range of body types, or allowing women to inhabit more nuanced, complex roles and relationships, broader and more realistic portrayals and representations of women are important as “you cannot be what you cannot see.”
Empowerment is not a strategy, it is a methodology
From the images you choose to the pen portraits you draw of women consumers — you have to reflect on every aspect of your work and the approach that underpins it, to question whether your ideas are only appealing to an image of a woman who only exists in advertisers’ minds. As Pip acknowledged, cliches come fast and easy, and it’s tempting to fall back on stereotypes when looking to target a mass audience. But, by falling back on stereotypes, you are in danger of reifying them in ways that are damaging to women, and damaging to business.
This is starkly true within a market where 55% of women make purchasing decisions, but automotive advertising still features women decoratively positioned atop a car, or where women drink more beer than Prosecco but too often only appear in beer advertising if they’re wearing a bikini and emerging from the sea. Even Dolmio ads, where ‘Mama’ cooks while the dad dominates the dialogue appeal to stereotypes of a nuclear family that are irrelevant to the majority of British women who aren’t married. Rich female friendships are also too rarely represented, with work not passing the advertising equivalent of the Bechdel Test.
Instead, by recognising the varied, nuanced realities of women and women’s lives, advertisers can better craft communications that engage more effectively with women today.
Be critical of tokenism
We’ve recently seen a raft of cynical campaigns, with brands jumping on “femvertising” as a trend or bandwagon to appear relevant.
Whilst not necessarily falling under that umbrella, in recent examples from Burt’s Bees and the latest iterations of Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty, revelatory moments of empowerment are still tied intrinsically to beauty. Of course these are beauty brands and it might be naive to expect them to do otherwise but, as Pip argued, other brands should acknowledge that beauty is not the be all and end all, and there is always room for more holistic messages and representations of women.
Barbie’s efforts in this arena were also criticised for their tokenism, with the advert and new range of dolls seen to perpetuate highly constrained, narrow parameters around how women should look.
As Charlotte explained, despite the prevalence of hashtags such as #mumboss or #mumtrepreneur, she believes it’s important to convey that, while you can and might want to ‘have it all’, you really don’t have to. It’s a fine line to navigate and it’s important that women aren’t put under added pressures or being made to feel as if they’re failing.
Women live integrated lives
Created ‘for women who happen to be mothers’, Motherland pushes back against the idea that women are defined solely by motherhood. As a member of our audience illustrated, she regularly reads Motherland but has only added it into the mix of her other favourite online publishing channels. As Charlotte joked, mothers aren’t only interested in reading round-ups of the best baby products, and Motherland’s editorial approach is broad in scope and aims to encompass a whole host of content — across lifestyle, culture, human-interest and more.
Through her audience, Charlotte has found a supportive, loyal and powerful network that offers a powerful alternative to the old boys club mentalities that often prevails, challenging the stereotypes of competitive Mumsnet mums. This community has attracted brand partners and advertisers, keen to communicate through channels that already have an engaged audience in more credible, authentic ways.
A project for Danone’s new range of children’s snacks, Super Yummies, offers a great example of content-creation arising out of Motherland’s partnerships. The brand simply asked Charlotte to spend a day with her eldest daughter, sample the snacks, draw pictures and chat. Her drawings and their conversation were used to create a sweet animation to advertise the new range.
Beyond advertising and editorial, brands such as Gap have looked to Motherland to organise the launch party for its current casting call, looking to find the new face of Gap Kids, for example.
More women in advertising will make better advertising for women
Addressing the underrepresentation of women in senior positions within the advertising industry will in turn help influence for the better the way women are represented within adverts, adding more voices and perspectives that will help challenge staid stereotypes. However, it’s important not to put the onus solely on women — everyone in the industry needs to take responsibility and consider with more nuance the ways that women are being spoken to.
Location:Shoreditch House Library,
London, E1 6AW,
Start:1st June, 2016 at 8:30am
End:1st June, 2016 at 10:00am