In 1978, a Virginia Slims print ad led with a sepia-toned image of a 19th century woman hanging laundry outdoors—and 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-woman—perfect 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 changed—women'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.
What's next on the Marketing to Women horizon? PrimeTime Women—that silver segment between 50 and 70 years old. The same Baby Boomers who once wore T-shirts that said "Never trust anyone over 30" are now wearing somewhat-larger T-shirts proclaiming "50 is the new 30!"
Not only are they in the prime of their lives (every study I've seen reports that people in their fifties and sixties say those are the happiest decades of their lives), they are also the prime marketing target for almost every category of product, service, or sociopolitical movement.
I'm not exaggerating when I say they are poised to rule the world for the next 20 years.
First, this already-vast sector represents virtually the sole source of demographic growth for at least the next 10 years.
Between 2006 and 2016, the entire population of the United States will grow by 23 million. In the same period, it's the over-50 population that will grow by just over 22 million. As the Boomers step over the threshold of "the big 5-0," they not only swell the ranks of PrimeTime but also leave a deep hole in the "junior" population, if I may call them that.
Second, they have almost all the money. People 50 and older control fully 79% of the financial assets in this country.
And third, as any population gets older, the women become increasingly influential, not only through sheer survival, due to their longer life-spans, but also because the biological jiu-jitsu of male/female midlife hormonal shifts render women more assertive and men more accommodating.
Marketing to PrimeTime Women is like winning the marketing trifecta. They are the largest segment, with the most money, and with ever-increasing influence.
Leading-edge Boomers are turning 60, and they represent the center of the marketing universe for the next two decades. And Boomer women are a different breed. Compared with previous generations, they have been wage earners and have had a far-greater-than-equal share in household consumer decision-making. As confident breadwinners and "chief purchasing officers" both in the home and in the workplace, they enter their prime years with an unprecedented degree of market clout.
But marketers see PrimeTime Women only as "middle-aged ladies"—assuming they see them at all. As I was researching my latest book on this topic, I was hard-pressed to find examples of companies marketing to PrimeTime Women at all, let alone marketing to them well.
A recent AARP print ad shows a lovely, PrimeTime Woman with long, flowing silver hair, bare-shouldered in a crimson gown at the opera, with the caption, "To most marketers, consumers die the minute they turn 50."
When will we see today's new woman, in today's new advertising?
We've come a long way, baby... Or have we?