Inside the Mix

When marketing directly reflects everyday women, brands take on real-life credibility

When marketing directly reflects everyday women, brands take on real-life credibility

In an era of targeting smaller and smaller groups, it's easy to forget about macro markets - can there be any new ones left?

Maybe not, but that doesn't stop marketers from repackaging existing ones. For example, Dove's "Real women, real curves" campaign has had so much press that Unilever could justifiably claim stewardship of the real women demographic that everyone is now talking about.

To Unilever's credit, this is certainly the largest, highest-profile marketing campaign for a beauty product that has used as models the kinds of women we see every day - out on the street, in our offices, everywhere, in fact, except, well, in advertising and the entertainment media. Feedback and commentary have been largely positive, with an "about time, too" message, although the criticism has been made that none of these women is larger than a size 12, while the national average is size 14. But no one said advertising had to stop being aspirational, and a size 14 woman is more likely to relate to an attractive size 12 than to a waifish size zero.

Unilever is far from the first company to do this; it's just the most famous, and the campaign has proven successful enough to show other marketers that it's a risk worth taking. Nike's new campaign aimed at women with big butts and tomboy knees (Nike's words) is no Dove copy-cat, being a logical continuation of its female-targeted marketing, but it must surely have been a fillip to see the success of Dove's efforts. Nike's ads are designed to drive women to buy apparel, which will make it one of the very few mainstream clothing manufacturers to use larger women to sell clothes that aren't only designed for plus sizes.

But it's not just in the appearance stakes that marketers are embracing real women. Procter & Gamble has long been acknowledged as an innovator in terms of understanding women, and its latest ad campaign for the Always brand of sanitary pads seems to have been designed in the spirit of the real women movement in that it's not so much about how much blue water the pad can contain, but more about what real women feel when they have their period. With the tagline "Have a happy period," the ads are frank about what the product is actually for, even though this category has been described by many as the last taboo of advertising, being almost more coy than incontinence products. Action images of women Rollerblading and flying kites so traditionally beloved of feminine-hygiene product manufacturers apply to so few women's lives on any day of the month, but we've all craved chocolate, a manicure, or our husband's head on a plate at one time or another.

None of these campaigns is perfect and critic-proof, but they all show that the female market is absolutely ready to be spoken to in a real way. The real models in the Dove print advertisements have even crossed the ad/editorial divide and ended up on the front cover of People magazine, and we all know how powerful an editorial endorsement of a message can be.

Of course, that women have to stand up and be counted as "real" in the first place is worthy of discussion, but marketers know they can have a role in this discussion and make money all at the same time.

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