Women Do Not Want to Be ‘Miss Understood’

CANNES, FRANCE They make up to 80 percent of all purchasing decisions, which these days include buying booze, condoms and guns, but are women buying your ad messages?

That question was raised on Wednesday at the International Advertising Festival here during “Miss Understood,” a provocative seminar presented to a packed auditorium by Publicis’ Leo Burnett CEO Linda Wolf and chairman and chief creative officer Cheryl Berman. According to research gleaned by the agency from “girlfriend groups” around the world, the answer is a resounding no. Looking mainly at ads for female-targeted brands, Berman said that most are uninspiring and many are “unintentionally offensive.”

“With unprecedented levels of earnings, and one in four wives making more than her husband, women have a lot of money to spend and they love it” Berman said. But they are “crying out for work that speaks to them in an authentic way.”

It’s not as simple as denaturing the entire beer-bimbo landscape, although Miller’s “Catfight” was shown. Addressing the popularity of shows like Sex in the City, and the complicated and sometimes paradoxically overtly sexual roles that young women seem comfortable with these days, Berman said, “Strong women are not afraid to play the sex card. But they don’t like to be seen as mere objects.” She added, “The mentality behind” some blatantly sexist ads “doesn’t bother them. What bothers them is living up to the physical standards.”

Emphasizing the importance of using the right mix of emotion and humor to connect with increasingly skeptical women, Berman and Wolfe also presented examples of more evolved work. In the sophisticated and funny Morgan Stanley commercial called “Julie,” the idea of showing women as multidimensional people is taken literally: the spot shows “Julie’s subconscious” meeting with all her alter egos at a conference table. Included in the group is the Julie who represents the “irrational fear of ending up a bag lady.”

Wolf and Berman ended the presentation with a series of suggestions for marketers: make it funny, make it real, follow the money (acknowledge women’s new financial strength) and, the tip that got the biggest laugh, try a new position: sex sells, but it has to be approached with a distinctly female point of view.