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Politics, Sexism, and Marketing to Millennial Women

4bonniefullersm091508 There was a great article that Advertising Age ran Monday in their online edition by guest columnist Bonnie Fuller that I'd like to comment on. It's titled "Election Shows This Generation of Women that Sexism is Still Alive...Tough Lessons for Millennials: Your Qualifications May be Beside the Point".

It grabbed my attention for a numbers of reasons.

  1. I have two teenage daughters who are considered "Millennials"
  2. I just got done writing a post on my blog about a recent McDonald's promotion that was targeted to Millennials
  3. The big buzz over the weekend was SNL's instant classic sketch staring Tina Fey impersonating Sarah Palin and Amy Poehler as Hillary Clinton.
  4. And of course it's the presidential political season and this year couldn't be more interesting.

I'm going to repeat what Bonnie said in her article that is while I don't want this to be a political blog post I just can't help but comment on how I feel this political season is affecting women. I was and still am a supporter of Hillary Clinton and I couldn't believe how sexist the media treated her. Even some comments made by men that I personally know and wouldn't normally consider sexist surprised me. They seemed to love to make fun of Hillary's pantsuits. Also one of the first comments about Michelle Obama was the fact that a dress she wore on "The View" was a fashion hit. Now we haven't been hearing about what John McCain is wearing on the campaign trail or how good-looking Sarah Palin's husband is, have we?

The fact that we now have Sarah Palin in the political spotlight replacing the focus that was on Hillary brings even more discussion to how the media has been treating women this year. Whether you're a Democrat or a Republican, whether you like or dislike Sarah and/or Hillary, you can't help but get upset about the different ways that they are spoken about vs. their male counterparts.

I do have to admit, however, that I was surprised to find even myself questioning how Sarah Palin could ever seriously consider running for Vice President of the United States when she's a mother of an infant child, and one with special needs no less. Who is this husband of hers that appears to be strong enough to carry the load that the mom normally carries?  And if Sarah Palin is successful, can she help to change the very perception that many people have about motherhood? This would be a huge step for women. However, the big question is still "if".

So, going back to what Bonnie was saying in her article is that this may be a good thing for our daughters and younger adult women to experience, those Millennials who are now between the ages of 12 to 31. They were raised believing that a women could be president or anything they wanted to be. My daughters were brought up in a family where their mom went back to work outside the home before they saw their first birthday. They were accustomed to having both parents share the cooking, the driving, the bedtime rituals, etc.

My older daughter just left for college this year and she's really looking forward to voting for the first time. My other daughter who's still in high school isn't of age yet, but is very curious about what is going on with this political campaign. She's asked us several questions around the dinner table about this year's candidates and was very eager to learn more about this Sarah Palin that everyone was all of a sudden talking about.

Lostring I mentioned that I just wrote a post about a recent McDonald's marketing program that specifically targeted the Millennials. While I was attending PMA's Digital Marketing Summit last week in NY I got to hear McDonald's brand/agency team, Kim Lloyd, Sr. Director of McDonald's Global Marketing and Julie Channing, Sr. Account Director with AKQA, speak about The Lost Ring Promotion

The ultimate goal of this marketing campaign was to celebrate the spirit of the Olympic Games. When developing this promotion McDonald's agency AKQA stayed focused on targeting Millennials and used this consumer profile as their strategic guideline. They define the Millennial audience as extremely peer-oriented, smart and opinionated. They also are a group that is highly comfortable broadcasting their lives on social networks. This type of self-expression helps to reflect who they are and they define their status from finding the next big thing. With this profile the team concluded that the program had to be dynamic, enable self expression, allow for different levels of engagement, facilitate peer-to-peer interaction and by all means be fun. 

The do's and dont's that Bonnie included in her article about marketing to millennial women are:

  • Do remember that they know the power of their pocketbooks. If they don't feel that a brand understands them or feel it is sexist in any way, "they will fight back economically with their ATM and Amex cards," said Marian Salzman of Porter Novelli. "They will go where they are appreciated."
  • Do remember that a poor-quality product will be quickly found out. "Quality matters to them," said Apollo Management's Lisa Bernstein. "They'll network with friends online to find out how a product worked for other people. Their attitude is: Why should I buy your product? Why should you be so lucky to be used by me?"
  • Don't talk to them like they're victims, whether it's regarding body odor or weight or anything else. "Brands have to be less parental in the way they communicate with them and be more of a friend to sell to them," said JWT's Rosemarie Ryan.
  • Do keep your message down-to-earth. "They don't like 'slick' marketing," said Ann Sarnoff, president of Dow Jones Ventures. "You can't preach to them and you can't talk down to them."

So, right now while we're in the thick of this presidential political campaign it's not easy to see how it's going to go down in history. But whatever the outcome, as Bonnie has pointed out, we have clearly given our younger generation millennial women a more realistic view of what it was like for us baby boomers growing up. How we market to them today is different then how we were marketed to (Remember "I can bring home the bacon?"). But, it some ways it's still the same, just many different options now available to get the message out there (online ads, social networks, blogs, etc.).

Us baby boomer women were told by many that women couldn't have both family and career. Now perhaps this political season has helped to light this fire again. We'll see.


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Diane K. Danielson

I have to admit when it comes to millenials, I mostly meet the really gung-ho gonna change the world types. These were the college women who invited me to speak on their campuses and the young women soaking up every piece of advice a Gen X'er or Boomer could find the time to give them. However, I've recently gotten to learn more about high schoolers and I have been shocked to hear more than one young woman express her life's goal as becoming a MILF.

So, I think when it comes to Gen Y/Millenials - I agree with Yvonne's comment that they realize they can't have it all but they are becoming more extreme like our political parties - either work or home. This is different from us Gen X'ers who tried to do both. Did we succeed? I'm not sure, we'll have to wait until our kids are a bit older to find out.

As for the Palin stuff - I disagree that a man can't be the nurturing parent. I know a few stay at home dads with special needs children and some single dads who are the main caretakers of the children because they are better suited. I even had a few friends raised by their dads cuz the moms left when things got tough.

It's unfortunate that the nomination was hijacked by people questioning her parenting skills and not her experience or beliefs. I do find it interesting to see the conservative women/men totally flip flop on this issue of whether a woman should be be in the kitchen or in the white house.

p.s. We're running a survey about online networking over at the Downtown Women's Club and we include some Palin related questions salient to this point and would love to have input:

Lynette Allen

As you know I live in the UK so the whole Sarah Palin thing isn't quite as newslogged as I think it is in the US but I work with women through my work who run their own businesses and it is a struggle for the mums. Some have nannies so logistically childcare and the laundry etc is sorted but emotionally there's a great pull usually mixed with a whole lot of guilt. Where I've coached women who did work and run businesses and were out of the house early and back late, they do feel this has impacted on their now grown up children. A mum is a mum at the end of the day and it appears their kids really do need them!

Donna DeClemente

Thanks Yvonne for adding to the conversation. You bring up some great points as well. I brought the subject up with my husband tonight when I told him about the post I wrote and I was surprised that he doesn't quite get it. It may be just a female thing.

Also, what I didn't realize when I wrote this post is how well known Bonnie Fuller is. She recently started her own company which is focused on marketing to millennial women. Here's a video interview with her that Ad Age released today.

I think we need to get her on Lipsticking real soon!

Yvonne DiVita

Donna, excellent post! I have two daughters in that group, also. They are pretty confident that women CANNOT have it all, without sacrifice (funny how our peers did not tell US about the sacrifice part).

Are Hillary and Sarah good role models for having choices, today? Are their husbands good role models for the significant others who have to shoulder more responsibility... I don't know.

They're in the spotlight and, as you note, they are bringing attention to this double-standard, once again. In the end, IMHO, it's always the woman's choice. Not society, not the environment she lives in, not her family and's HER choice, and she needs to weight the consequences carefully.

Hillary and Sarah, again IMHO, put career ahead of family every time. That's their choice. It wouldn't be mine. And, I'm not saying it's right or wrong. I'm saying it's a choice - Susan B. Anthony went to jail for it - and remained unmarried and childless, to further her cause.

I'm voting on principle and issues - not gender. So, it will be important to me to feel confident that whomever is elected is able to focus on the country's needs, and not on his or her personal ones.

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