In Gentleman Prefer Blondes, the book by Anita Loos, not the movie, the character Lorelei Lee is a smart, funny woman. Perhaps not always intentionally funny, but able to make people around her smile, nonetheless. She is a distinctly American character, which is what prompted the author Edith Wharton to call this book, “the great American novel.” But in 1925 when this was written, Lorelei needed to be portrayed by Loos as a guileless, sometimes conniving, clueless bimbo. In terms of the character, men bought it. They loved her. Women, on the other hand, saw right through it.
Women saw her as smart and funny. The reason is that men at that time never wanted to think of a woman as “funny.” Men actually never even considered that a woman could be funny – that was man’s territory. Today, through cultural conditioning and perhaps years of enduring endless male-driven joke slaying, women’s sense of humor is still different from men’s. While men tend to go for the punch line, women go for a subtler slide to the finish, full of innuendo and a positive, happy ending.
In marketing to women today, humor has its place, but it is not about a joke. Female humor in communications is best driven through light-hearted, comedic scenarios where there is no victim or brunt of the joke. Humor for women is more about a smile than a belly laugh.
Take P&G’s Swiffer advertising. Women dressed as “mud” and “dirt” are swept off their feet by a mop. Hysterical? Not really. Metaphorically relatable to women? Absolutely. You can be sure that somewhere in some consumer research, women talk about “loving” a mop that lets them get the job done fast, well and with ease. The benefit of Swiffer is clear – it’s a superior pick-up artist. It’s a mop with benefits. You can’t help but smile when you see this ad. And eliciting a knowing smile when marketing to women is better than going for the laugh.
In fact, this approach to connecting with women might very well be coined “Smile Marketing.” Humor that is story-driven, versus joke-driven, is a powerful tool in connecting with busy women. Anything that causes a mouth to form a smile at any point throughout the day is a good thing. It also creates a memorable moment. Advertising that invokes an involuntary smile is smart without being too obvious and in-your-face. It says, “think and wonder” versus “look at me, aren’t I great?” In the competitive marketplace where end-benefit one-upmanship can result in increased sales and market share, the way in which superior product benefits are portrayed to women are as important to brand likability and image as the benefits themselves.
Women tend to be brand loyal. When they find a brand they like, they stick with it. In the end, benefits among top competitor household brands are often apples to apples. When the playing field is even, telling a story with relatable, smile-worthy, oh-they-get-my-life kind of humor is what will prompt trial or a fresh look. Maybe the title of the next, great Anita Loos-type book should be Women Prefer to Smile.