“Women are the fastest growing consumer group,” said Marc Bland, vice president of diversity and inclusion for IHS Automotive. Automakers “can’t help but make them a focus of marketing efforts,” he said.
Many are doing that. Buick, for instance, partnered with the Food Network and displays cars at food and wine festivals that skew female. Last year, Ford forged a partnership with Rent the Runway, a dress-rental business, with a sweepstakes contest to promote the Ford Fusion. Others are active on TV programs and channels that have largely female audiences, through product integrations and placements.
Yet a study by Greenfield Online for Arnold’s Women’s Insight Team shows that three quarters of women feel misunderstood by carmakers. Jody DeVere, CEO of AskPatty.com, a Web site that provides automotive advice for women, said that while some automakers are “making wonderful progress” in reaching women, “others are still in the dark ages,” overlooking segments such as baby boomer women, a group she says has the strongest purchasing power but is nonetheless underrepresented in advertising.
Linda Landers, CEO of Girlpower Marketing in Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., points to examples such as Chevy’s “I Love the Rain” ad for its Traverse crossover, where the woman is shown preparing to drive a gaggle of kids to an activity on a rainy day. There’s no reference to her having any other role, or to specific attributes in the car that might appeal to her, such as interesting technology, she said.
‘Mad Men’ era
It doesn’t help, DeVere says, that men are the ones making most of the creative decisions. According to a study by Lifetime TV and the Insight Group, 90 percent of creative directors at the top 100 advertising agencies are men. Many of them work on automotive accounts, DeVere said, ensuring that marketing is carried out the way it was in the “Mad Men” era: through a male lens.
“The automotive industry is an old boys’ club in many respects,” said Melody Lee, director of brand and reputation strategy for Cadillac.
Weitzman says she and Lee are in a minority among auto industry creative teams. She says, for example, that she was the only female on set for the “Stacy’s Mom” commercial, other than the talent, and she made sure to weigh in on the model’s selection and every aspect of her wardrobe, insisting, for example, that she wear pants instead of a skirt.
Kat Gordon, founder of the 3% Conference, an effort to get more women involved in the creative side of marketing, and owner and creative director of Maternal Instinct, said that, while automakers’ outreach to female consumers has often meant typecasting women as soccer moms, that’s starting to change, with more nuanced messaging that appeals to women in different ways.
She points to two recent Super Bowl spots — Chevy’s World Cancer Day spot, “Life,” and Hyundai’s “Dad’s Sixth Sense” — which showed “a human, relational side of each car brand that women ranked highly in postgame polls.”