Long before websites like Pinterest sold products to consumers under the guise of content, beauty and fashion advertisers reached women the old-fashioned way: print, TV, and in person at department stores, where salespeople told the masses what was trending. Thanks to the digital revolution, there's been a large and exciting shift in the way female consumers search for, compare, and purchase products.
At the same time, we've witnessed a departure from the way that advertisers used to depict women in the 20th century. The perfect housewife and the blonde bombshell were stereotypes frequently used to market all kinds of products -- from makeup, to household appliances, to cigarettes -- to women. Although the old adage "sex sells" is still 100 percent in play today, the advertising industry is gradually starting to depict a more diverse array of girls and women.
The rapid growth of digital advertising and social media deserves at least some of the credit for changing both the strategies that marketers use to connect with female consumers and the way women are depicted in advertising.
Empowerment is always in style
Now, we can access more content than ever before, so brands have to come up with new ways to stand out from the crowd -- which means that advertisers have no choice but to break from traditional advertising strategies. People are no longer interested in hearing "Buy this!" Thanks to technology's effect on advertising, brands now have many channels to create emotional connections with their consumers and give them a voice.
From the smiling housewife, to the ditzy blonde bombshell, to the leggy, androgynous supermodel, women have been offered a limited number of roles in advertising, and the message was to pick one and conform. But the same beauty and fashion brands that once championed these stereotypes have had to change tactics and emerge as leaders of change.
If you have a finger on the pulse of the fashion industry, it's interesting to watch beauty brands and fashion houses competing to steal market share from one another. They've realized they won't succeed unless they embrace the fact that women are much more empowered consumers than they used to be, and that marketing needs to reflect this.
Thanks to social media, individual consumers are lot more influential than their parents' generation. In keeping with this trend, the advertising industry is trying to show women the way they want to be depicted, not force them into narrow categories. Branded female empowerment, like the Always "#LikeAGirl" viral video campaign, has proven to be more effective than the retro white-washed beauty and fashion ads from decades ago. The success of the campaign depended on its deep emotional appeal, plus the fact that was easy to share, tweet, like, and pin. This ability to amplify a brand's message means that they now have the chance not just to promote themselves, but also to take a stand on social issues, an idea that would have been shot down in a pitch session on Madison Ave in the 1950s.
Curated and customized retail experiences
Technology democratized information and, once consumers were armed with the facts, brands struggled to retain their authority. Today, companies are held more accountable for open and informative advertising associated with their products. Advertisers have realized that they can no longer just talk at their consumers, but rather they must engage in a two-way conversation.
Savvy brands now incorporate personalization and customization in their messaging. It demonstrates that they don't just talk, but also listen to their target audiences. This is great for female consumers in particular, because they finally have a say in how women should be represented in marketing.
However, the bar is rising at a rapid pace. Even the curated subscription boxes that once felt tailored to an individual's needs are no longer deemed personal enough, and consumers are searching for a deeper level of customization. Consumers used to seek brands that helped them fulfill their aspirations and feel connected to a larger group, but now it's about finding a brand that speaks directly to a woman as an individual.
As we look towards the future of advertising, emotional connections to brands will become even more important. Millennial women need to be marketed to differently -- they want transparency in their products, they want the option to rent rather than to buy, and they're looking for a personal experience in a retail space, not just a store. In order to now capture people's individual personality and therefore their attention, brands will start to formulate advertisements that have the right message for the right woman at the right time.
This trend further demonstrates that women today get to dictate not only the channels advertisers must to use to engage with them, but they can also influence the industry to represent women as autonomous, empowered individuals.
Alexandra Press is director of digital business development at Tag Creative.
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