What Financial Brands Can Learn From A+E Networks’ Study on Marketing to Women

More educational messaging—and less 'pinkwashing'

This TD Ameritrade spot exemplified the messaging around finances that women responded to most positively in A+E Networks' study. TD Ameritrade
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After spending more than two years studying the representation of women in media, A+E Networks think tank Kalpana+ is sharing findings from its latest study in an attempt to help marketers understand how best to connect with women about financial matters.

For the past year, the company’s Kalpana+ team has studied the relationship between women and money. Now, the team has determined how financial brands can most effectively market their products and services to women.

The study found that women are most receptive to messaging that empowers them with knowledge and tools to help make their own financial decisions; doesn’t treat them as a stereotype; helps them achieve a healthy balance between planning for the present and the future; and goes beyond typical financial jargon.

Beginning this month, the company is sharing these new insights with planning, strategic and creative teams at agencies. It also will take this data into the upfront as it looks to partner with financial brands and help them reach their female audiences on networks like Lifetime.

Diving into the think tank

Created in late 2015, Kalpana+ is “a team that deconstructs cultural forces into actionable insights that will drive actual business outcomes,” said Don Robert, evp, research and strategic insights, A+E Networks. (The name comes from a Sanskrit word that means creativity and imagination.)

The group’s “art meets science” approach—combining social sciences like anthropology, sociology and demography with qualitative and quantitative research methodologies—is powering internal and external studies and insights at the company.

Kalpana+ has spent last two years working “to understand the cultural shifts around gender identity,” said Marcela Tabares, evp, ad sales research, A+E Networks. As the team began delving into specific advertising categories, it picked financial first, because marketers are “struggling” to speak to women in that space.

The study combined a literature review of existing research, interviews with financial experts focused on reaching women, a mobile ethnography (short videos and written commentary about “money moments” submitted by women over a month’s time), focus groups with women and quantitative surveys of 1,900 women and 600 men. It wasn’t tied to specific creative executions or brands, but looked at general themes and messaging.

Women and finance

The study found that gender characteristics shape cultural beliefs about women that are connected to money (for example: that women are more passive, risk-averse, and better at day-to-day finance but not long-term decisions). Those, in turn, impact women’s attitudes about money and finances, which are more negative than men’s. Women are also more likely to be dissatisfied with their finances than men.

For women, the top barriers to pursuing financial goals are unexpected expenses; not having enough money to invest; the inability to balance spending now and saving for later; not knowing whom to trust; being overwhelmed by choices when it comes to financial options and not understanding financial jargon. More broadly, those five barriers break down into three categories: insecurity, lack of control and lack of knowledge.

That last category, said Tabares, is one in which marketers could really make a difference. Almost half (47 percent) of women surveyed said they’re unsure of how they can learn more about improving their finances, while 56 percent feel they lack sufficient knowledge to manage personal finances.

According to the study, men and women are equally confident in feeling knowledgeable about managing money in day-to-day situations, but huge gaps exist between men and women when asked if they feel confident about investing (64 percent of men said yes, compared to only 38 percent of women) and retirement planning (63 percent of men compared to 43 percent of women).

Tabares added that young women “present a huge opportunity.” In comparison with older men, older women and young men, they’re much less satisfied with their personal finances, have much less exposure to financial expertise and are the lowest by far in how knowledgeable they feel about investing.

The study tested 16 different messages for consumers, inspired by actual marketing campaigns, and asked men and women which were most and least motivating to them. Despite their differences in perception of finances, the four most motivating and four least motivating messages were exactly the same for both men and women.

A+E Networks
A+E Networks

Stop ‘pinkwashing,’ and other lessons marketers can learn

The most effective messages for financial marketers targeting women revolve around the themes of agency (empowering the consumer with the knowledge and tools to make their own decisions); balance (helping theme achieve a healthy balance between the present and future); stereotype-free (talk to them as an individual with their own priorities, not a stereotype, and acknowledge all levels of wealth) and respect (money is serious business, so go beyond jargon and don’t get too casual).

“The more knowledgeable you feel, the more satisfied and confident you are about your financial situation,” said Tabares.

Also key for financial brands marketing to women: “Don’t ‘pinkwash’ it,” said Tabares. “Whenever it’s distinguished as ‘men and women are different,’ it’s insulting. And it’s off-putting for men too, so you’re just alienating both people there. Both men and women told us that their relationship with money could improve, so if you oversell the gender angle, you’re going to miss the opportunity with men.”

While the study didn’t ask about specific creative, its findings highlight two ads incorporating the messaging in which women indicated they were most interested. One was a TD Ameritrade “Green Room” spot from early last year, which speaks to the “balance” theme as it talks about investing in both tomorrow and today.

The second spot is a State Farm Insurance ad, set to a cover of the Capital Cities song “Safe and Sound,” which talks about how so many Americans struggle with finances, and presents them with the opportunity to sit down and educate themselves about the process.

Next steps

Kalpana+ is in the process of rolling out this presentation to clients and hopes that it has the same effect as its previous studies, which prompted some brands to change the creative execution of some spots to incorporate new insights. The team also shares its data with A+E’s in-house agency, The Bridge, to help inform the tonality of its projects. “It also helps our own ad sales team go to them with ideas that are grounded in research and learning,” said Joetta Gobell, vp, primary research, A+E Networks.

“We think that in order to understand how women respond to any given piece of creative, you have to understand the broader context of her life,” added Tabares. While dial-testing gives brands immediate reactions to a particular spot, “if you don’t have much of that broader understanding of what shapes her perceptions and her experiences in life, it’s going to be harder to get a broader understanding of why that’s effective or not.”

The company will be taking these insights into its upfront event. “We are using this study to help better enlighten and add deeper value in the marketplace, as well as to open doors to garner more revenue this upfront,” said Peter Olsen, evp of ad sales for A+E Networks.

While A+E hopes to partner with financial brands with this new information—ideally by creating custom content for those marketers via The Bridge—the company said it ultimately wants to educate its clients to create more effective messaging across their entire campaigns.

“Kalpana+ can be used as a stand-alone think tank or as part of a more comprehensive relationship with A+E Networks and its in-house creative assets,” said Olsen. “This is yet another example of how we are trying evolve our offerings to partner on an ever deeper level with our valued advertising and marketing partners.”

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.