As a PR guy who knows as much about the strategy behind TV commercials as the average Manhattan sanitation worker, I am nonetheless ALWAYS cornered at holiday parties to provide my POV on the latest, greatest TV spots.
This past New Year’s Eve, though, was decidedly different in one, striking regard:
I’ll bet 10, or more, women poked their respective fingers in my chest and asked me to explain why so many major advertisers were “putting attractive, young women in menial receptionist positions to sell their products.”
The offending advertisers most frequently cited were Progressive, Toyota and AT&T.
One woman asked me why middle-aged white guys like me who make decisions on creative strategy for TV spots continue to denigrate women. “Why can’t you celebrate the successes of female executives such as Mary Barra who was just named CEO at GM?”
After sighing and sipping another glass of Sancerre, I tried to explain that, while my firm was indeed a fully integrated one, I remained a PR guy to the core.
Hence, while my skills and views have changed as dramatically as the lines between advertising and PR have blurred, I still had no involvement whatsoever with the creation, casting or production of TV commercials.
I did offer this bon mot, however: Many advertisers still assume they know what consumers want. They still maintain an inside-out, top down approach to marketing. They still identify their target audience by name (i.e. Jane). And, they still believe they know what makes Jane tick (‘…Jane is a 40-something, mother of three, who juggles two jobs, manages the family money, is stressed to the max and needs to find more time for herself. That’s why a bright, shining and empathetic face at the Toyota dealership will elicit a warm response from Jane. And, research shows us Jane trusts her fellow women more than she does men.”). Smart move on Jane’s part, BTW.
Based upon such quantitative data (and old school marketing logic), creative ad agencies then formulate the TV spots that end up alienating Jane, and many other women.
I talked my way out of that particular holiday chit chat by suggesting the ladies post their comments on the Progressive, Toyota and AT&T websites as well as in their favorite chat rooms. I assured her PR types such as me would be listening, and would relay their angst to the marketing powers that be.
After that, though, I told the disappointed ladies that all bets were off. Because, until and unless marketers put themselves in the shoes of their audiences and experience their brand from the outside in, they’ll continue to unknowingly offend and alienate key target markets.
Whoever said the more things change the more they stay the same must have been thinking of advertising (or sanitation workers).