THIS BUD'S FOR YOU. NO, NOT YOU--HER
There's no more masculine product than a Smith & Wesson revolver, right? Think again. After Smith & Wesson Corp. launched LadySmith, a line of guns specifically for women, in 1989, the Springfield (Mass.) gunmaker saw its sales to women jump from 5% of the company's total to nearly 18%.
Like Smith & Wesson, a growing number of traditionally male-oriented marketers are learning that women make surprisingly avid consumers of products once assumed to be boy toys. From hardware chains to carmakers to brewers to insurers, companies that once ignored women now recognize that they may be the key to raising market share. Toyota Motor Corp., for example, sold almost 60% of its cars to women during the first half of this year, up from 45% during the first half of 1986, and it expects that number to grow again next year. "Women have become extremely knowledgeable about the car business," says corporate marketing manager Ren Rooney. "They have some influence on 80% of our purchases."
For decades, many marketers treated women as housewives with little interest in items beyond packaged goods, clothes, and cosmetics. Now, 57% of women aged 16 and over work full time, say New York researchers Find/SVP. Some 26 million women head their own households, and while women's pay still lags behind men's, their median income is growing faster.
'REAL CHANGE.' The insurance industry, for one, has taken eager note of women's growing financial responsibilities. "What we're seeing is real change in the whole makeup of the middle class's income and protection needs," says Don Bittner, advertising director at State Farm Insurance Cos. "It now takes two incomes for a family to exist." State Farm is marketing life insurance specifically to women through ads in magazines such as Working Mother and Working Woman.
But if the changing role ef many women has made them an attractive marketing target, it has also made them a tricky one. Simply rejiggering a male-oriented marketing approach may not work. Two years ago, for example, when Nike Inc. decided to boost its women's business, it "tried to mimic what we had done with men," says Kate Bednarski, manager for Nike's women's division. "We hired triathlete Joanne Ernst and tried to make a hero of her." In one spot, Ernst, explaining how to be fit, said "it wouldn't hurt to stop eating like a pig." The campaign "was a flop," Bednarski admits. "Customers said: 'You make great men's stuff, but I don't feel you understand me.' " So Bednarski and ad agency Wieden & Kennedy Inc. created a $12 million print campaign calculated to show women that Nike understood them. Multipage ads in such magazines as Elle and Mirabella catalog women's fears and aggravations. The ads stress building self-esteem with exercise--in Nikes, of course. Bednarski says 20% of Nike's $3 billion business now comes from women, up from 13% in 1990.
DIRECT TALK. Avis Inc. also decided to start targeting women after it noted that the number of women business travelers was growing faster than the market in general. The company gave discounts to members of the National Association for Female Executives, created a campaign showing a woman in a car, and placed the ads in women's magazines such as Lear's, Entrepreneurial Woman, and New Woman. The tagline: "We make the road a little less lonely." Says Allen Kurzman, Avis' vice-president for marketing services: "We wanted to talk directly to women and say: 'We understand what is driving you.' But we did not want to say: 'We will only give you pastel-colored cars.' "
Indeed, superficially feminizing a product is a good way to ensure that women will avoid it. Smith & Wesson learned that lesson early on. "Other manufacturers put on purple grips and engraved roses on the sideplates of women's guns," says Michael Shypula, the company's former director of advertising. "But we found through focus groups that if a woman is going to pull out a gun for personal protection, she doesn't want a cute gun."
The company did redesign the guns to fit women's hands. And it made two concessions to aesthetics: The stainless-steel finish on the $366 LadySmith revolver is frosted, and the edges of the revolver and the $585 LadySmith pistol were rounded after women complained that the guns' sharp edges ripped purse linings.
Companies that face the most difficult challenge in marketing to women are those that have spent years alienating them. Many traditional beer ads have offended women with scenes of beer-guzzling men ogling bikini-clad beach bunnies. In May, Anheuser-Busch Cos. began trying to redress that with a new TV spot for Bud Dry. The ads, shot from the point of view of an unseen woman, depict dates with five men out of the annals of dating nightmares--including a nerd who raves about his mother's brisket and an unctuous yuppie with a cellular phone. "We certainly haven't offended women intentionally," says Steve Burrows, Anheuser's vice-president of beer brand management. "We have listened, and where change was appropriate, we were willing to change."
LONG MEMORIES. Some women say the change won't make them pick up a Bud. Rebecca Ann Brody, 27, an office manager at Performance Systems Group in New York, says Bud's new approach doesn't erase her memory of the old ads: "Good-old-boy beer ads really make me not want to drink the stuff. I drink beer that's not advertised."
In the antediluvian macho past, those Bud-guzzling guys often hung out at the local hardware store. But some major players in this once exclusively male preserve have noticed the rising proportion of women homeowners. Now, they're beckoning women such as Maggie Hartley, a 37-year-old scientist and avid do-it-yourselfer. Hartley made roughly 100 trips to the local Home Depot Inc. outlet during a five-year, $50,000 renovation of her Atlanta home. Other hardware stores made Hartley feel uncomfortable, she says. But at Home Depot, "I didn't have the feeling that people were asking: 'What is that woman doing here?' "
To convey the message that hardware stores aren't just for guys wearing overalls and toolbelts, both Home Depot and Builders Square, the San Antonio-based do-it-yourself division of Kmart Corp., offer free weekly clinics in such tasks as laying ceramic tile and installing sliding doors on bathtubs. The two chains say the clinics attract large numbers of women. And Builders Square is building 4,000-square-foot "decor centers" in 26 new stores to be filled with wares such as designer faucets and elaborately carved door frames. "People have always called us a man's toy store," says Mark James, vice-president for marketing, who says 45% of Builders Square's customers are female. "We don't think we're there yet for women, but we'd love to be."
SURPRISE. And there's no more macho arena than sports, right? Wrong--as Everfresh Inc., a subsidiary of John Labatt Ltd., knows. The company is now test-marketing Cool Down, a post-workout drink for women who don't like Gatorade. "The great surprise is that the American jock is not a male, it's a female," says Andrew J. Brennan, vice-president of marketing and sales at Everfresh. "She's the one who's exercising twice a week." The ads incorporate scenes from syndicated cartoonist Nicole Hollander's offbeat feminist comic strips. The characters contrast the different views women and men have on dating, health, and sex, concluding that "Guys just don't get it." Maybe not. But a growing number of marketers do.WOMEN OWN BIG-TICKET ITEMS
Percentage owned by women in 1990
WASHING MACHINES 56.0%
LIVING ROOM FURNITURE 53.9
NEW IMPORTED CARS 50.4
NEW DOMESTIC CARS 48.1
DATA: MEDIAMARK RESEARCH INC.
Laura Zinn in New York, with bureau reports