Advertising To Women/Moms -- A Brief History

With March being Women's History Month, sharing a retrospective on how advertising to women has evolved through the years seemed appropriate. I think it's safe to say that the launch of Ladies Home Journal in 1883 by Cyrus H.K. Curtis, with his wife Louisa as editor, was a major milestone in the practice of creating advertising specifically targeting women.

Advertising in general has changed dramatically through the years as new vehicles have been introduced and marketers continuously search for innovative ways to engage their target consumers. But, when it comes to advertising to women, especially during the past 50 years, we'll just say, "You've come a long way, baby."

A Brief History

As women have made enormous strides in education and career achievements, their buying power has skyrocketed and what they want from the brand they purchase has changed dramatically. In the 1950s and 1960s, when only 35% of women were in the workforce and a common aspiration among young women was to get married and raise a family, ads concentrated on painting the picture of the happy homemaker (think June Cleaver). Messaging focused on how the advertiser's products and services could help her keep a nicer house or get her family's clothes cleaner or prepare a better meal.

But, as the women's liberation movement took hold in the early 1970s and more women started to pursue careers, we started to see sexier, more confident women on television and in advertising. Remember how Mary Tyler Moore went from Laura Petrie to Mary Richards in less than a decade? Younger Baby Boomers and Gen Xers may remember from their childhoods the Charlie girl or the superwoman portrayed in the classic 1980 Enjolie fragrance commercial with the cheesy jingle, "Cause I'm a Woman." You may even recall the campaign tagline, "The 8-hour perfume for the 24-hour woman." Women wanted to do it all and do it all well. Clair Huxtable, for example, was a wife, mother and high-powered attorney with no sign of a housekeeper.

Then, Gen Xers started running out of steam in the late 1990s and early 2000s from trying to keep up with it all and, after Gen Yers and Millennials watched their mothers struggle to keep it altogether with demanding careers and families, women started to rebel. They lost interest in achieving the mythical Supermom status. While we still feel a great responsibility to take care of our families, we don't obsess over whipping up the perfect meal after a long day at the office. Even women who drop out of the workforce to stay home with their children are embracing the idea of being more laid back, relatable moms. Think Deborah Barrone, or better yet, Patricia Heaton's current character, Frankie Heck on "The Middle."

You don't have to look far today to find campaigns portraying more laid-back moms with less-than-perfect families. The popular Toyota Swagger Wagon campaign is a highly entertaining parody taking on the impossible-to-achieve notion of the perfect parent. And, I personally like the Windows 7 "To the Cloud" spot featuring a woman using modern technology to get the perfect family photo that ends with the line, "Windows gives me the family nature never could."

Marketing to Women Today

Based on work we're doing with our own clients, here are some things to remember when marketing to women (specifically "Moms") today:

  • Women want us to acknowledge that they are more than just moms. They want us to recognize that they have a sense of identity beyond their domestic roles and interests outside their homes, including careers, friends, clubs and other activities.
  • Even as the role has changed through the years, one thing has remained constant: Women with children still handle the bulk of household and childcare responsibilities, whether or not they are working full-time, staying at home or something in between.
  • Today's women have accepted the notion of life being a series of trade-offs. They know they can't be good at everything all of the time, so they do the best they can in each situation. They want brands that make it easy for them to delegate.
  • Making family connections is still most important to women. Help them find ways to spend more time with their families, and you'll get their attention.

Now that the percentage of females enrolled in college has overtaken the number of male college students, I'm curious to see how the role of females -- and how we market to them -- changes in the next few decades. But, back to our retrospective, there's one fact that I can't help but share -- Woodbury Soap was the first advertiser to use sex appeal to sell a product in ads that ran in Ladies Home Journal in 1911 with the tagline, "The skin you love to touch." So, I guess some things really don't ever change.

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1 comment about "Advertising To Women/Moms -- A Brief History ".
  1. Stefanie Smentek from Comcast Spotlight , April 4, 2011 at 9:59 a.m.

    Great article! Goes along nicely with our blog post on Marketing to Moms: http://www.comcastspotlight.com/blog/how-to-reach-moms