We still see financial services brands promising wealth creation to pay for boys’ educations and girls’ weddings. We still see wives slaving over the perfect meal and perfect home to greet their breadwinning husbands with, mothers agonising over tending to their children’s every need, and it frequently feels like every gender cliché is still alive and kicking and living on Madison Avenue, India. And we still see most things targeted at women coloured Pink.
But it is not as if brand teams and ad agencies are staffed only with men, or that we are all insensitive boors. The truth is, we are all so conditioned by our environment, and I daresay, our upbringing, that we tend to make errors of omission rather than commission in this regard.
Why, recently, the first draft of a series of ads for a kids’ banking product we launched had lines that presented the father as smart, the mother as a pampering shopper. I am happy to say it got caught before it ran. All we had to do was reverse the gender, and the lines sparkled.
Lest you feel I am being a raving jihadi feminist, no, that is not my point, not here at least.
My point is, and I recently made it elsewhere as well, that we kid ourselves if we believe that our woman targeted marketing puts her at the centre of the discussion. Because most of the time, all we are after is figuring out what to say to make her buy what we made. Classic selling concept type paradigm, which Kotler told us is passé.
What we ought to do is figure out what women seek, and create products, solutions and communication efforts that address those needs. Easier said than done, and I know I will be bombarded with jokes about how we will never know what women want. But we got some really expensive, somewhat anti-climactic, nevertheless very solid advice from the eponymous movie starring Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson. In one word, Listen.
I think we also know quite well what they don't want. The world's largest cigarette brand started life as a woman's cigarette brand, but 30 years later, went from 1 per cent market share to becoming fourth largest seller within a year of repositioning itself as an alpha male brand. In India, we know that a woman's cigarette brand died a quick death. Is it possible that one of the key reasons women smoked was to fit in, in a man's world? If women do some things to be more like a man, can we re-imagine a world where they are not required to do so? What marketing opportunities does that present?
For instance, the average homemaker in India has no income, hence no income proof, and hence most banks will not issue her a credit card without asking for some breadwinner (usually husband, but could be father too) to stand guarantee. Now we know that all such homemakers have a secret stash of savings she has rescued from her monthly housekeeping budget. Why can't we just take such an amount as surety from her, and free her from the humiliation of being labelled a dependent all her life?
Evolutionary science tells us that we seek to be attractive to the opposite gender so that we score better in the contest to be chosen to mate with the best assembly of genes available. We are hard coded to believe being fairer and prettier enhances our chances in this race for survival.
Instead of feeding this preset idea, what if we developed products, and hence messaging and marketing interventions that helped our culture, hey, all of mankind to recalibrate our universal notions of beauty? What if, for example, our movies made the nerdy woman the most sought after? Surely her gene pool is something your offspring could do with a generous helping of?
Into that heaven of respect, let my world awake.
The author is Head of Marketing at Kotak Mahindra Group.