How Not to Market to Women: Fashion Isn't ALL Women Care About


Dear companies that market to women: Stop trying to sell me stuff that has nothing to do with fashion by fashion-washing your ads. I hate this marketing trend! Much in the way that toy companies think little girls will only be interested if it’s pink, brands that sell everything from house paint to yogurt have decided that the only way to market products to women is via association with makeup and clothes. It’s sexist, it’s cynical, and it just doesn’t make sense.

Here are a few of the more egregious examples of this marketing trend I’ve seen in the past year.

The Fage Lipstick Ad

Mmm, creamy luxury! What a great ad for lipstick!

how not to market to women

Wait, what? This is an ad for yogurt?

We don’t even need to get into the irrationality of yogurt being marketed solely to women – my husband eats 10 times as much yogurt as I do. I'm just trying to understand the connection between lipstick and yogurt. This picture doesn’t make me hungry at all. And if I just put on red lipstick, I sure wouldn’t want to smear it up by eating a container of yogurt afterwards.

What the hell are they thinking?

The GEICO Shoes Ad

A really good way to know that a book is written by a woman and intended to be bought and read by women? If it has shoes on the cover.

marketing to women

This one has an engagement ring too! Women like shiny, pointy things!

GEICO – whose ads are usually pretty great – seems to be taking a page from chick lit’s book with this ad:

Women's Marketing

“You spent weeks looking for those perfect pumps.” (No I didn’t.) “Fortunately, it only takes 15 minutes to see how much you could save with GEICO.” I just … don’t know. I have a vagina and feet but I like the caveman ad way better than this.

Marketing to Women

The Benjamin Moore “Life in Color” Commercial

In this commercial, you see a woman buying lipstick and clothes, piling up the shopping bags like a champ before she finally goes into a paint store.

It’s actually CONFUSING. It feels like a commercial for Marshall’s or Macy’s, not Benjamin Moore. And I sort of feel like the more likely you are to be a shopaholic, the less likely you are to be a do-it-yourself-er type. The more time I spend in Sephora, the less time I spend painting the family room.

The Lean Cuisine “All the Rage” Commercial

Here’s another example of a brand making a nonexistent connection between fashion and their product – this time they’re using clothes to (try to) sell frozen dinners:

“Fashion or food, it’s all about taste!” Oh look, the purple cabbage matches the suede platforms! This is just dumb. Nobody buys food because it goes with their outfit.

Crystal Light’s “Mix and Match” Ad

This example is more subtle – at least the imagery is of the actual product they’re selling:

How to Market to Women

This time it’s the language that’s borrowed from fashion: “I like to mix and match.” Because this ad appeared in a fashion magazine, I can sort of get on board with the subliminal connection. It’s the more blatantly obvious assumption that women won’t be interested in paint or car insurance unless you trick them with shoes and lipstick that I find offensive.

Have you noticed this trend? What do you think?

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May 20, 2013

I'm curious to know if these are Pavlov experiments or simply somethings that has been tested to reasonate with a demographic I can't really relate to (e.g. teenagers).

Elisa Gabbert
May 20, 2013

Sometimes things test well but don't work in the real world. See New Coke. Even if this trend "works" for some companies, I hope it dies soon.

May 21, 2013

Haven't you heard that yogurt is the official food of women?? 

Randall Magwood
May 20, 2013

Lol this is actually an interesting find. I do agree that most ads that are obviously targeted to women have a "hint" of fashion appeal in their ads.It's like companies think women are dumb... i wonder if the head of the marketing department in most of these corporations is a man.....would be hilarious if most are women lol.

Ann Druce
May 23, 2013

I'm not sure if this is culture specific.  I'm South African,and while this is a chauvenistic society, I don't think I've seen as much patronisation in our advertising here.  (Though, of course, the chick lit cover designs are universal.)Of course, women are frequently presented as one-dimensional mothers and housewives in ads for processed foods and cleaning materials, but at least you can see the rationale here.One of my favourite local campaigns at the moment, goes in the other direction, presenting men as a the male equivalent of the "dumb blonde."  This isn't my work but I wish it was.  If you are interested, you can see it on YouTube here:

Miami Custom Promotional Products
May 28, 2013

Lol this is funny. I wonder the same thing when I see the TNT commercials that advertise the new tv drama's that have a woman playing the lead role.(Detective, Criminal, or whatever the show is about) and they throw in an explosion I guess to get guys to watch the show lol. Maybe you are right. I dont see harm in  it since its not like they say buy this or watch this or else we ill throw you in jail. It would be a problem then lol Ps Yogurt kicks manly arse

Jun 03, 2013

Man those ads are pathetic.  I understand what they're trying to do.  But I don't think it's working at all.  As a matter of fact it's probably having a reverse effect.  For example, if I thought I was looking at a lipstick ad, then discovered it was a sneaky yogurt ad, I am now boycotting that yogurt brand.  Even if it's actually good and I could have become a customer under different circumstances, that's not an option any more, because they're misleading and I don't like dishonest people or businesses.  That's the wrong way to try to win over new customers.

Sep 21, 2013

That is anoying , indeed. But my point of view is that it is not only for you and me, my friend ! . I have seen lots of people who even respod to these adds. These companies must have done deep research. 

Elisa Gabbert
May 21, 2013

Or maybe men at ad agencies are to blame. :) Who knows!

Elisa Gabbert
May 21, 2013

I love those videos!

Megan Marrs
May 22, 2013

That video is hysterical! Her expressions while standing in front of the videos made me crack up.

Elisa Gabbert
May 23, 2013

That's funny and clever. Thanks for sharing! (I hate that cleaning products are ALWAYS, ALWAYS marketed towarded women...)

Elisa Gabbert
Jun 03, 2013

@Christopher, I feel the same way. it should be pretty obvious what you're selling before I have to look for your brand name!

Megan Marrs
May 20, 2013

I agree, these ads are really pathetic. As a women who has never been even remotely interested in fashion, I've always found fashion-related ads somewhat alienating, but these just show a real lack of creativity that is downright sad.I don't doubt these ads will fail because as you said, the ads are really confusing and it isn't immediately obvious what they are trying to sell.

Elisa Gabbert
May 20, 2013

I actually AM interested in fashion and makeup, but when I see pictures of fashion and makeup, that makes me want to buy clothes and lipstick, not house paint and yogurt. Sigh....

Laura Taylor
May 20, 2013

The two things most of these ads have in common is vivid imagery  with deep color saturation and they are sensual, appealing to your sense of sight, smell, touch.   You imagine the smell and feel of the items.  They creamy, rich red lipstick - they creamy yogurt.  Although your husband eats more yogurt, who typically buys it?  These adds rely on the senses vs an appeal to the intellect.  I get that it could feels demeaning from one view but I would be really interested to see how they perform in the market for women 35 - 65.

Elisa Gabbert
May 20, 2013

We both buy yogurt, depending on who gets to the store first, but interestingly, I've never (knowingly?) seen an ad for the brand that we buy.If these WERE ads for lipstick and shoes, they wouldn't be very creative or interesting. Shouldn't a yogurt ad that centers on lipstick be at least as interesting as a lipstick ad?

Megan Marrs
May 20, 2013

Now I am curious about what yogurt you buy. I remember those Oikos ads were a big hit during the Superbowl. I've seen plenty of Chobani ads, which is what I usually get. 

Elisa Gabbert
May 20, 2013

Greek Gods. We insist upon full-fat yogurt, and most yogurt that is heavily marketed to women is low-fat or no-fat.

Aug 26, 2015

I agree, these ads are really pathetic. I do agree that most ads that are obviously targeted to women. this is actually an interesting find.I don't doubt these ads will fail because as you said, the ads are really confusing . These adds rely on the senses vs an appeal to the intellect.

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