Once upon a time, there were two venerated queens. Each enjoyed a historic reign over her multimedia kingdom, ruling absolutely over her millions of adoring subjects who yearned to be just like these demigoddesses of house and home, body and soul. By obeying their every edict and staying on task, the rulers decreed, any woman could get whatever she wanted—as long as she just wanted it enough.
Then, the evil Kardashian princesses swept into town and ruined everything.
So, it’s come to this for Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart. So much has already been written about the crash of their respective businesses that rehashing the details would amount to overkill. The bottom line is that for so very long, female consumers bought whatever this diva duo was selling—be they TV programs, magazines or house paint.
And then one day, they weren’t.
In this, our Women’s Issue, we aim to define the evolving female consumer and determine how marketers should speak to her, which brands are doing the best job of connecting to her—and which are not.
This brings us back to Oprah and Martha. These might be purely business stories about brands—ones that just happen to be fronted by women—taking a wrong turn. The overextension and oversaturation of Martha, with too many products in too many places, the centerpiece being an ill-fated programming deal with the Hallmark Channel that may well result in the face of domestic bliss disappearing from the airwaves. And in the case of Oprah, a stunning, headlong stumble into the domain of cable that would have been unthinkable when she ruled daytime across decades.
These may be cases of larger-than-life personalities who overstayed their welcome. They could be victims, as so many others, of media fragmentation, a circumstance that has allowed for the likes of Bethenny Frankel to command the stage.
It might be that the next superwoman is merely waiting in the wings, though clearly it’s a tough trick to pull off—just ask Rachael Ray. Perhaps Katie Couric’s much-hyped return to daytime this fall will be just what women are waiting for. Or, what about Kelly Ripa? Wendy Williams? Snooki?
Of course, the tarnishing of Oprah and Martha could be none of that. Rather, it could signal a bigger cultural trend, where the Everywoman—that older and wiser sister we need to guide us around life’s potholes—has evaporated along with other fantasies like ever-ascending real estate values, the family dinner hour and the Huxtables.
“What we’re seeing is the end of the Alpha Girl,” said Lesley Jane Seymour, editor in chief of More, which bills itself as the magazine “for women of style and substance.” Said Seymour: “With the recession has come a heavy dose of cynicism. Just as all these people put money in Bernie Madoff. We put a lot of our trust into single people and saw the rise of the guru. There’s heavy disillusionment in following any one person now.”
Seymour believes the demise of the über-woman has paved the way for the Gamma Girl, who gets her advice from—and shares her own wisdom with—her peers, with no one person leading the pack.
The trend is embodied by the recent, breathtaking rise of Pinterest, the social media site where women share their favorite brands, baby pictures and life lessons.
“We’ve become more about individual brands—ourselves included—and social media has built a platform that enables that,” said Pattie Garrahy, founder and CEO of the agency PGR Media, whose clients include Juicy Couture and Kate Spade. “We don’t want to be told what to do and how to do it. We have too many sources we can seek out ourselves now.”
For those reasons, Garrahy sees the rise of a mentor on the scale of an Oprah or Martha “highly unlikely.”
Up-and-coming generations are even less inclined to seek out a sage, said Cindy Gallop, former chairman of agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty and founder of the sites If We Ran the World and Make Love Not Porn. “Generation Y is questioning and challenging everything and will no longer do everything Oprah or Martha tells them to,” said Gallop. “Women no longer accept that on-a-pedestal icon of what they should be like.”
Now if only someone would tell Kim Kardashian’s 13 million Twitter followers.
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