Powerful Women & the Forgotten Man

Posted by Steve Kleber on Jun 04, 2010

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Have we gone too far?

A 1978 Virginia Slims magazine ad reads, “Back then, every man gave his wife at least one day a week out of the house.” The ad depicts two very different women: a black and white photograph shows a woman in an apron hanging laundry outside while the other image illustrates a beautifully modern woman showing a little skin in a colorful, flowing dress. The ad continues, “You’ve come a long way, baby.” With feministic undertones, the ad is just one example of a campaign dedicated to the independence, glamour and liberation of women – worlds away from cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. It illustrates a woman who is free, happy, and most importantly, unattached.

The Virginia Slims campaign, although not the first of its kind, helped pave the way for a critical change in the relationship between men and women, especially in marketing. The past few decades have been a transfer of women gaining authority in the marketplace. Today, role reversal is extremely common in marketing and advertising with many brands opening the door to women in a man’s world of sex, power and money. The surprising part is that women are coming out on top.

It’s no secret that women are powerful shoppers. Did you know they are responsible for 80 percent of all household purchasing decisions? With such a striking statistic, it’s not surprising that a great focus is directed toward women when it comes to marketing, advertising and the media.

How many ads can you think of that directly target men?  Of those,  do you think the modern man is fairly represented? It has been said that men are portrayed as indifferent, egocentric and self-indulgent. We discuss the role of men in the marketplace (or lack thereof) extensively in our Missing Males White Paper. The research here summarizes the idea that marketers and the media depict a man’s role in the household either negatively or not at all.

Today, not only do we notice the “missing male,” but we see a complete role reversal that changes the male / female dynamic even further.  Women are now portrayed as individuals with male characteristics – powerful, dominant and influential – while men are unexpectedly feminine, slave-like or illustrated as sex objects.

A current example of a brand taking advantage of role reversal is Xanté liqueur. With a racy slogan, “Unimaginable Pleasure – Oral Delight from the Country of Europe,” Xanté specifically targets women with sexually charged copywriting and controversial ads. The liqueur itself is described using words like affection, touch, penetration, and ménage a trios, but one phrase sticks out like a sore thumb: “The Golden Age of Women.” It’s ironic, yet playful and fun. The ads are the real catch with women leading sports in which you’d typically only see men participating – hunting, rowing, sledding, and cricket. In each ad, the men are very robotic, playing the role of dogs, servants and even objects.

Xante advertisement

It’s obvious that the women are in charge. The men are just their toys.

Take a look at this recent Marc Jacobs ad. I’ve taken the liberty of transforming the word “bimbo” into “HIMbo” when discussing the role reversal of men and women in marketing and advertising. This himbo fits the mold:

“himbo”

There’s been a 30 – 40 year transfer in how men and women are portrayed. It’s as if they swapped roles completely. Has it gone too far? I’m all for independent and strong women – both in the workplace and at home – and respect the necessary and long-awaited advances made in decades past.

But have the tables turned too drastically, where men lose credibility?

Do the media know they have created a true battle of the sexes? Maybe, but women have officially taken off their aprons to show what they’re really capable of: conquering anything a man can do. From leadership roles and strong opinions to successful careers and sports, women have come a long way (baby).

This entry was posted by Steve Kleber on Friday, June 4th, 2010 at 3:53 pm and is filed under Advertising, Marketing, Research. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.