Impact of Womens Shopping

March 12, 2007
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GRAND RAPIDS — In television commercials, women are portrayed as everything from tired housewives and moms in minivans to models in skimpy clothes and high-powered business executives. But are the ads conveying the right message to the right people?

In her book “The Power of the Purse,” journalist Fara Warner examines women as consumers and how marketing to women has turned some companies around.

Looking at her own experience with Nike, as well as advertising practices of companies such as Avon, McDonald’s and De Beers, Warner examines the way marketing to women is changing from a cookie-cutter approach to diverse campaigns that aim to reach a diverse market.

Warner will share her research and experience with West Michigan tomorrow at the AmwayGrandPlaza at an event sponsored by Inforum, a professional women’s alliance.

“Inforum chose to have Fara speak to our entire membership because she opened some huge corporations’ eyes to the way they market to women — and to the potential of the financial impact that women have on corporations’ bottom lines,” said Judith Welch, West Michigan regional director and Inforum Center for Leadership regional director. “Fara literally changed the way several companies do business, because each of those companies has started to pay more attention to what women want.”

Welch said as women’s influence on the marketplace grows with their earning power, Inforum wanted to show its members the difference women are making.

As a journalist covering marketing, advertising and consumer trends for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Fast Company and Brandweek, Warner said she was struck by Nike’s lack of marketing to women while she was training for a marathon. After inquiring, Warner discovered that the company actually was working on a new marketing campaign to reach women, reflecting their power as a viable market.

“We were powerful enough now that we could be the generators of a lot of revenue,” she said.

Warner said women also have an impact on the automotive industry, but some companies have been slow to understand the magnitude of that impact.

“We don’t just influence the purchase of the car; we actually make the purchase of the car,” she said.

There especially has been a lack of understanding of that fact at the dealership level, she said, with sales staff still asking women if their husbands are going to be a part of the purchase.

“Dealers just don’t get it — and they still don’t get it after 20 years of being told how to get it,” she said, explaining that it comes down to asking dealers, “Do you really want money to walk out your door?”

In her book, Warner discusses the emergence of diamond merchant De Beers’ right-hand diamond ring marketing program, which allows women to hold onto the fantasy that they will receive a diamond engagement ring from a man, but they can still celebrate themselves by buying a right-hand ring. The company used the phrase “The left hand rocks the cradle. The right hand rules the world” in its ad campaign. Warner said De Beers was saying to women, “We understand you love tradition; that doesn’t mean that you can’t have something that celebrates your job.”

Not a jewelry person herself, Warner said she does not have a right-hand diamond ring, but she did buy herself a black pearl necklace to celebrate the signing of her book contract.

In doing research for her book, Warner said she found that companies use many different approaches to gain women’s business.

“I thought that it was really interesting that some companies are marketing to women as women, and some as partners with men, and others on a twist of the traditional homemaker role,” she said.

Her examples include Home Depot, which markets to both men and women as people who work on their homes, and Proctor and Gamble, which now markets its Swiffer product as both faster and better, rather than as a product that just completes the task faster. Warner said although young women have grown up in a different world than their mothers and grandmothers, they still hold on to the importance of a clean home.

“We all hold those things inside of ourselves that come from our traditions,” she said.

When a product such as the Swiffer is introduced, Warner said it is important that it is shown to have the old traditional outcome, but in a way that suits a modern lifestyle.

“It’s got to be faster, but it’s actually got to work better,” she said.

In talking to other women, Warner said the biggest surprise was that although the women made most of their families’ purchases, they did not feel empowered.

“A lot of the women I talked to would say ‘I don’t feel in control, I don’t feel very powerful,’” she said. “If you don’t think of yourself as successful and powerful, how can you put it out to the world that you are?”

Warner said her book is both a tool for businesses and a sociology text.

“At its core, it’s for business people to understand how they can make changes by focusing on women,” she said. “I really wanted the book to be accessible to everyone.”

Originally from Utah, Warner now lives in Ann Arbor and was the recipient of a Knight-Wallace Fellowship at the University of Michigan for the 2005-2006 year. She said she is currently considering writing another book, this one focused on China

For information on Warner’s visit on March 13, go to www.inforummichigan.org.    

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