In 1978, a Virginia Slims print ad led with a sepia-toned image of a 19th century woman hanging laundry outdoorsóand the caption, "Back then, every man let his wife out of the house at least one day a week." Juxtaposed was a color photo of a sassy young lady in a daringly modern evening gown proclaiming the brand's signature line, "You've come a long way, baby!"
That line caught on as the slogan for a new generation of women and launched a slew of "new attitude" advertising from marketers trying to capture consumer dollars.
The huge Boomer buying segment was coming into its own spending power. Boomer women, radicalized by their college educations and the activist sentiments of the 1960s, were energized by a defiant sense of independence and entitlement. And marketers sought to support and empower them by reflecting their new self-image in the campaigns of the day.
Model Shelley Hack strutted long-legged across "Charlie" perfume ads before she leapt across the screen as one of the original Charlie's Angels. Not to be outdone, Enjoli perfume's glamour girl sang, "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan; and never, never, never let you forget you're a man."
It was the era of the super-womanóperfect at the office, in the kitchen, and in the bedroom.
Nowadays, when well-meaning clients want to create campaigns designed to "empower women," I have to tell them "That's so 20 years ago."
It's too late. Today's woman is already empowered. She brings home the lion's share of the bacon in 55% of US households. For one thing, she is the sole breadwinner in the 27% of US households headed by single women. In dual-income households, 30% of working wives out-earn their husbands. And even in households where she earns less than he does, her spending power is greater because, as Chief Purchasing Officer for the family, she spends not only her own paycheck but most of his as well!
So that's one thing that has changedówomen's self-image. These days, anyone purporting to empower women is more likely to confuse or alienate them. Savvy companies like Dove, Ponds, and Nike know that women are "empowered," and those companies have shown us how powerful the images and stories of real women are.
Marti Barletta is the founder and CEO of consulting think-tank The TrendSight Group (www.trendsight.com) and the author of PrimeTime Women: How to Win the Hearts, Minds, and Business of Boomer Big Spenders (Jan. 2007) and Marketing to Women: How to Understand, Reach and Increase Your Share of the World's Largest Market Segment (Dec. 2002). Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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