This article was first published in the March edition of Media Pulse – Omnicom Media Group’s monthly highlights on relevant media insights, intelligence and trends.
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Was it just us or did everyone notice an uptick in women-focused ad campaigns this Women’s History Month? It’s not a fluke: women-centric marketing is on the rise globally and smart brands are catching on quick. From Cannes to Cupertino, advertisers are paying more attention than ever to the way women are portrayed in media—and marketing directly to the group that makes about 85% of all consumer purchasing decisions.

In an effort to curtail the gratuitous use of sex-sells marketing, DDB proposed a “Cannes Lioness” award aimed at rewarding gender-neutral advertising. Instead, Cannes is partnering with the high priestess of Lean In herself, Sheryl Sandberg, to present an award it’s calling the Glass Lion. The Glass Lion is meant to recognize “outstanding efforts challenging gender bases.” Move over, Clio.

Some pro-women campaigns have been met with near universal acceptance, which proves there is a right way to touch on this controversial subject. Who could forget P&G’s #LikeaGirl campaign, launched to rave reviews (but sadly, tested online beforehand to ensure a favorable response). Sport England recently launched “This Girl Can,” a nationwide celebration of active women who don’t particularly care if their hair’s out of place. And L’Oreal’s recent appointment of 70-year old Dame Helen Mirren as a brand ambassador is a notable win for ageism and feminism. Two birds, one stone.

Some surprising facts advertisers should keep in mind: 70% of all women with under 18 children are part of the labor force, women account for 58% of all online spending, and over half of women surveyed say advertisers “don’t understand” them. Savvy marketers are already working to bridge the gender gap, many in traditionally masculine industries. Automakers, tech providers, and even the NFL are currently developing campaigns designed specifically for the female consumer. Perhaps the biggest opportunity to capture the female audience lies in the soon-to-be trillion dollar health and wellness industry. With women making a vast majority of purchasing decisions for the family—particularly in food and medicine—they’re definitely the market to reach.

But is it fair to call women “the next emerging market?” If it’s appropriate to refer to a segment of the population that’s been around since the dawn of time “emerging” then, yes. Economic forecasters are increasingly bullish on the rise of female marketing. Even hyper-traditional Ernst & Young says that, “Over the next decade, the impact of women on the global economy will be at least as significant as that of China and India.” Well…Míngxiǎn. (That’s Mandarin for “duh.”)

WACL, Women in Advertising and Communications of London, recently hosted a panel called, “A Woman’s Place? The Portrayal of Women in Advertisements,” where a majority of participants agreed that women weren’t represented fairly in ads. But on that note, most also agreed that neither were men, minorities, or the disabled. The overarching question remains: in the spirit of gender equality, should women (or men, minorities or those who are disabled), really be marketed to differently? Now there’s something for marketers to ponder.