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I spy a shifting perspective. A few traditionally male-oriented brands are connecting with the women's market in clever ways, and it is worth taking note of their approaches.

Take, for instance, the Under Armour and Trojan brands, which have launched recent ad campaigns that take a different tack.

In both cases, the brands have dialed into the specifics of the humor, tone, message, and design they know to be effective for their current, typically male market—but they have developed approaches that invite women into their conversation.

Under Armour launched an ad campaign for its women's sports apparel line that uses the tried-and-true, more hardcore masculine athlete approach—but with women as main characters.

In a June 18, Ad Age article Jeremy Mullman writes that an earlier Under Armour effort focused on the women's market included "bright lighting and sunny guitar riffs" that stood in stark contrast to the "darker, more intense football creative, which usually ended with an athlete screaming, 'We must protect this house.'" Turns out, women wanted the same thing, and that's why the brand is using the more masculine approach this time around.

Trojan's freshly launched television ad campaign, developed by Kaplan Thaler Group, centers on pigs (yes—the ugly, pinkish farm kind) with cell phones... who magically transform into "hot" guys when they think to buy a condom prior to a sexual encounter. The campaign is called "Evolve."

While there is broadcast network-related controversy over the effort's focus on preventing pregnancy rather than sexually transmitted diseases (a separate issue, obviously), what struck me was that the campaign is focused on inspiring sexually active young men and women (18-34) to be more responsible when in the moment. The humor and approach are decidedly more masculine, but I expect this campaign to resonate with everyone in that ad-savvy core market.

What you see right away is that these efforts reach women (not all women everywhere, but those most likely to be customers) not by "girlifying" their marketing messages but by maintaining their perhaps more authentic masculine approach. Though remaining focused on their core customer, brands that have a male-leaning perspective but connect in this way with women do not unnecessarily exclude due to gender-specificity, as plenty of female-focused brands often do.

In both the Under Armour and Trojan cases, the brands may have taken a risk in using a more "masculine" approach while still targeting women. On the other hand, women who come across the ads could well see them as refreshingly realistic.

Nothing need be dumbed-down, flowered-up, or diluted. Indeed, women can be amazingly hardcore athletes who want to "protect this house," and so can they also respond to a very particular type of humor with regard to condom usage, for instance.

Now, this may not necessarily work both ways. Given the history of the women's movement, women may be a lot more used to pushing past testosterone-type obstacles so they can experience new products, categories, and retailers. Men, on the other hand, may still not-so-easily explore beyond their usual comfort zones. They have less practice.

If a product has long since been "for women," (like skin care or hair care), a man might either hide his interest or just leave it alone altogether—and miss out on the potential benefits.

So, what is it about marketing to women that continues to alienate men, even for the products and service they might like to know about?

I don't intend to write myself out of my own career, but it seems as though marketing to women, as a business topic, has been unintentionally relegated to "a woman's world"—which is just the opposite of what so many of us in the field are working toward. For instance, rather than speak to a conference room full of women in the philanthropic industry, as I did recently, I should have been speaking to a roomful of their male colleagues.

But it still feels like one step forward and two steps back. Over the past seven or so years, several credible books and research have been published that prove the women's market is key to the future of business, and there has been plenty of coverage of successful efforts like Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty. And, still, not a lot has changed. I hear from plenty of men in traditional industries that they would likely continue to avoid conferences or working sessions labeled "marketing-to-women." Hmmm.

Other than the obvious, women-specific categories—beauty, health, and apparel, for instance—there are plenty of cases where marketing need not be a matter of gender-specificity at all, but should be more a matter of targeted life relevance.

Under Armour and Trojan are doing just that, using slightly different approaches, by maintaining a consistent message (hardcore athleticism, and safe-from-disease sex and unwanted-pregnancy avoidance) that resonates with both the men and women in their markets.

Focusing on your customers' shared interests, causes, or needs is marketing 101, but that focus can be easily diluted by the unnecessary application of gender-specificity to the marketing mix.

There is a time and a place for gender-specificity, certainly, but in many casesyou might just think of it this way: If you do the work to understand your core market as well as you should, there will be no need to then "figure out how to make this work for women." It already will.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

image of Andrea Learned
Andrea Learned is a noted author, blogger, and expert on gender-based consumer behavior. Her current focus is on sustainability from both the consumer and the organizational perspectives. Andrea contributes to the Huffington Post and provides sustainability-focused commentary for Vermont Public Radio.

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