When I first heard the title of USA Network's new miniseries, "The Starter Wife," I almost choked on my chilled latte. Good grief—40+ years of women's rights and the strong, sexy, empowered Sex and the City women of the '90s—and we're back to the '50s.

I imagined that "The Starter Wife" was the precursor to a long line of clueless-about-women TV programming—to be followed by "The Trophy Wife," "The Botoxed and the Beautiful," and "The Mommy Wars," all containing the requisite catfights, tight clothing, and powerless women with powerful men.

But, thankfully, this housewife is not that desperate—the title is just a catchy handle that refers to the past plot that leads to this sassy USA Network series, based on the novel of the same name by Gigi Levangie Grazer. I watched the first episode on May 31. The Starter Wife character, Molly Kagan, is played by Debra Messing—as strong, smart, funny, and beautiful as always. She's just been dumped by her Hollywood mogul husband and is learning to stand on her own two feet again.

Her character is refreshingly natural and down to earth compared with the other Hollywood residents in the show. Molly Kagan is more "one of us" (I even bought her "not from the manor born" student loan story) and not "one of them," and women will relate to her.

So, first of all, let's give it up for Unilever! This company has not made any false moves on the marketing-to-women front, and the "presenting" sponsorship for its Pond's brand is another smart strategy in a long line of savvy business decisions. With its sponsorship, Pond's gets its name linked to the show in all online and offline media, plus product placement in the show, integrated marketing, and promotions—and most importantly, a new brand image.

Pond's is helping to not only rebuild Starter Wife Molly Kagan's life but also rejuvenating its tired and "old" brand. When I say "old," I don't just mean that Pond's has been around for more than 100 years. I mean that when most women think of Pond's, they think of the jar of white goop in their granny's closet, next to the hair rollers and smelling salts. Pond's said "little old lady" like no other brand did. But no more.

As the first of several TV commercials says, "This is the new Pond's." The thought-provoking copy in the commercial promotes a new image of the Pond's brand and of women "on the other side of 40—gorgeous, confident, and cool." With the hip cachet of "The Starter Wife" and its insightful marketing campaign, Pond's is starting over too—and will surely succeed.

Not only are the script and visuals on course to be relevant to women, the marketing campaign that has gone into "The Starter Wife" is commendable for following so many powerful marketing to women principles.

  • Corporate Halo—The "corporate halo" principle is one of the strongest "marketing to women" tools in any strategic plan because it can help a brand differentiate from the competition in a meaningful way. This principle taps into women's overarching desire to take care of the world and give back to society, and they support companies that do too.

    As part of the launch of "The Starter Wife presented by Pond's," USA Network and iVillage partnered to designate May as "Re-start Month" and are making donations to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that helps low-income women in their career efforts. For every woman who made an online "personal pledge to start over in her own life," $1 will be donated to Dress for Success.
  • Female-Friendly Promotions—It's easy to get lost in the clutter of oh-so-many discounts, coupons, sweepstakes, and prizes like T-shirts, ball caps, and water bottles with logos galore. Pond's and USA Network have created relevant and compelling promotions that will break through the monotony of other giveaways by creating emotional synergy with the "starting over" theme and with female-friendly pay-offs.

    • Fabulous 40-something contest—To encourage women to tune in, Pond's developed a coast-to-coast search for the five 40-something women who best embody the Pond's brand of grown-up beauty, defined as confident and sassy. Each of the five winners will be featured in separate on-air vignettes highlighting their unique stories and personal care philosophies, which will air during "The Starter Wife." The five winners also received the "star treatment" with a weekend of glitz in Hollywood, including a walk on the pink carpet at the star-studded premiere party, and a glamorous hair, make-up, and wardrobe styling session.

    • Right-Hand Ring promotion—Pond's is driving viewership and retail traffic with this contest in which consumers can buy specially marked packages of Pond's products featuring a sticker with a unique game code. One winning code will be revealed each week during "The Starter Wife" on USA Network, and the five lucky winners will each get a 2.5 carat diamond ring worth $12,000.

  • Word-of-mouth—Women are a medium unto themselves. I call it the word-of-mouth marketing multiplier. One of the best ways to connect with women and get their word-of-mouth motor running is to unexpectedly deliver something extra. "Surprise and delight" them, and you've created a cadre of brand ambassadors.

    To spread the word, USA Network has taken over nail and beauty salons and yoga studios:

    • At 64 salons in large metros, branded nail kits are being handed out with emery board, mirror clings, aprons, as well as promotional DVDs.

    • Essie launched a new line of nail color, the "Starting Over" collection, in 50,000 salons and spas.

    • At 50 yoga studios in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston, branded yoga mats, tank tops for instructors, and branded water bottles for class attendees are being handed out.

  • Girlfriends—Marketers should never underestimate the power of women's closest friends. When you convert a female prospect, you get not only her own purchase power but also a lifelong string of referrals. Two ways to leverage "girlfriends" in marketing and events are "Tell a Friend" and "Bring a Friend" tactics.

    • USA Network teamed up with W Hotel and hosted a cocktail party May 17 in Los Angeles and May 24 in New York. Girlfriends watched clips of the show, received Essie manicures, Pond's and Too Faced makeup applications, and specially created cocktails.

    • Nationwide viewing parties have also been created using Alloy Media's "18-to-49-year-old influential women" database. Key trendsetters were asked to invite their girlfriends for a fun girls night out in their own homes. Each host got a "Starter Wife" themed kit, which included a 30-minute premiere sneak peek, nail kits, martini glasses, and recipe guides for all the makings of a party. And the girl with the best party will win a pink Buddy Scooter.

With this compelling and relevant marketing, an-all star cast, and the empathetic "starting over" theme that all women can relate to, I predict that "The Starter Wife" will be a winner.

And with the presenting sponsorship, I predict that Pond's will reap the benefits of a fresh start as well.

I can't wait to see what's next on Unilever's "marketing to women" agenda.

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image of Marti Barletta

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 marti.barletta@trendsight.com.

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