In a commercial for the 2012 VW Passat, a husband drives his very pregnant wife to the hospital, where he and a paramedic get caught up talking about the new car, forgetting about the woman about to give birth on its pristine seats.
It's a comical take on how men love to talk about their cars, but as the owner of a Jetta, I cannot say that the ad – although entertaining – speaks to me.
It makes me wonder why marketers don't actively target professional women more often. They certainly know how to speak to mothers, but this approach is short-sighted. Many women have children, but don't always think like a mom when they open their wallets. Statistics show women earn more undergraduate and graduate degrees than men and make approximately 75 per cent of key household purchasing decisions, so marketers should consider speaking to a woman's professional persona instead of focusing entirely on her personal side.
Occasionally an advertisement surfaces that smacks of this understanding, such as the DeBeers right-hand ring campaign a few years ago. That empowering pitch encouraged women to buy diamonds to celebrate their professional milestones, targeting a completely new market. Yet the campaign still sticks out largely because it's unusual.
"Marketers are still targeting moms, just like they've done since the 1950s," lamented Marti Barletta, chief executive officer of Chicago-based TrendSight Group, which provides insights about marketing to women.
Ms. Barletta expresses her frustration with this short-sighted approach since people are having smaller families than they did years ago, and because marketing to moms resonates most often with first-time mothers only. "Marketers who were supposed to be trend forward, leading-edge and future-focused are the most outdated people on the planet," she complained in an interview.
Ms. Barletta said there is some acknowledgment among advertisers that women have a professional side as well as a personal side, yet it seems that few know how to reach this lucrative market with a product or service that speaks to the professional woman.
Perhaps some new terminology could move this scenario along. As consumers, we understand the needs of soccer (or hockey) moms; DINKs (double income no kids); and now PANKs (professional aunt no kids). What phrase would capture the phenomenon of successful women whose needs surpass diapers and detergents? High-heeled high earners (HHHEs)? Stilettos with smartphones (SWSPs)?
"ProWo," suggested Jill King, president of Due North Communications in Toronto, a mid-sized ad agency that counts H&R Block and the Liquor Control Board of Ontario among its big clients. "I think that the more women are occupying professional roles, smart marketers will develop products and services that appeal to them and make them comfortable," Ms. King said.
Some businesses are already targeting this demographic. But for others, the rewards need to outweigh the risks. Many worry that singling out this market could result in alienating another market. Ms. King offers the examples of golf courses and whisky – women may enjoy both but marketers run the risk of losing their original target.
Another obstacle comes down to the marketing message. Ms. Barletta warned that women do not like to be treated exactly the same as men, likening it to a company that tries to treat its best Japanese customers as it does its best American ones.
"Women are very touchy about being singled out as women," she observed, adding that when male marketers target women, women hate it. If the message comes across as being designed for women by women, they appreciate it more.
Properly singling out this niche demographic means understanding the needs of working women and knowing what services would appeal to them. Men can have their shoes shined before work but can you get a 10-minute manicure at 7 a.m.?
Professional women, more than hockey moms, also need proper workplace attire. Ms. King noted that while Harry Rosen successfully created a friendly environment for professional men shopping for new attire, many women may feel intimidated by Holt Renfrew.
"There are women who make a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year who are still buying suits at Banana Republic," she observed.
Leah Eichler is a senior editor at Thomson Reuters who writes about women, their careers and success. E-mail: email@example.com