No matter what I write about marketing to women, it seems like I always come around to the same conclusion: quit stereotyping. The very worst (and apparently most common) thing a marketer or advertiser could do is skip the “thorough research” part of selling in favor of the “just guess” part. And once again, guessing about and stereotyping women is getting attention, this time in how food (and what food) is sold to women.
LA Weekly recently did an interesting feature about how limited food commercials directed at women are, and how far from reality they seem. We all know what foods are stereotypically “feminine:” salads, yogurt, chocolate, diet sodas, white wine and sweet cocktails like Cosmopolitans, made famous by the ladies of Sex and the City. Consider all of the following commercials:
What did LA Weekly find when they talked to a group of women about what they really eat? As one would expect, women like a little of everything. Some women really do enjoy snacking on yogurt. Some hate salads, some love burgers and pizza. As for beverages, the article cites two different studies and articles that examined the drinking behaviors of both genders. When it comes to wine, both men and women enjoy red wines and white wines pretty equally. Leaving wine off the table is an option too, as many women would happily drink a craft beer instead.
Certainly, marketers and advertisers in the hospitality industry should take away a lesson from all of this, and sell food and drinks to men and women equally, be it a steak, beer, or bottle of red wine. But there is another implication in these findings, concerning the way people perceive the relationship between women and food, and it is quite a bit more serious than the issue of selling correctly.
According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, eating disorders are more common in women. Up to 3.7% of women suffer from anorexia nervosa in their lifetime and up to 4.2% of women suffer from bulimia in their lifetime. 20% of people suffering from anorexia will prematurely die due to complications related to their disorder.
This is concerning when one considers that food marketed to women is primarily health food, diet food, and diet sodas. While promoting a healthy and balanced diet is certainly a good thing, it’s impossible not to notice that health food is only pushed on one gender: women. When unhealthy food such as chocolate and ice cream is pushed on women, it is often done so with an emotional attachment, as in, if you get dumped, here is a gallon of ice cream or a pan of brownies, or it still focuses on the idea that it needs to be healthy in some way.
As most adult women would tell you, and as the article in LA Weekly articulates, this isn’t really a realistic image of how women eat. Unfortunately, when it becomes such a standard to see this, it starts to feel like it is a reality, particularly for younger girls whose impressions of the world are still being formed. If the message they get is that women can only, should only, and do only eat health food, with no room for error unless it is an emotional binge, that sends a very dangerous message.
Fortunately, many women are pointing out that the way advertisers portray them is inaccurate and silly, and as they make it apparent they are sick of it, more advertisers will (hopefully) focus on the realistic.
After all, most people’s diets, regardless of gender, consist of some healthy food, some unhealthy food, at different times, and for different reasons. If marketers can understand that, everyone will be a little better off.