Innovation & Design

What a Girl Wants from Advertisers


Welcome to Modern Girl Marketing 101, taught by girls of the 21st century. Our first class is on print ads. What works and what doesn't?

Here's a tip: Getting a girl to desire your product isn't that different from getting a girl to desire you. So if it didn't work in your dating life, don't try it in your print ad.

Hmm...which ad campaign shall we pick to illustrate the point? Today's girl magazines are loaded with loser ads, from those for Procter & Gamble's (PG) feminine products -- such as Secret deodorant and Tampax tampons -- to those for Ecko clothing and Samsung electronics. All right, here's one: JanSport (VFC), a basic brand that most everyone knows and uses (or at least did back in their homework days).

We bet you're thinking, "Not much here to work with," right? Think again. If you look through the eyes of a modern girl, you'll see that this ad is chock full of mistakes. Companies talk about customer "relationships," but this ad uses moves you'd never pull in dating. It's a classic example of a marketing dud, and we're actually shocked it passed quality control.

PUSHING BUTTONS. What message is this ad sending a girl? It screams: "JANSPORT DOESN'T CARE." Clearly the company isn't looking to establish a happy relationship. Here are three negative signals that will turn girls off.

Start with arrogance. JanSport's ad says, "Take it or leave it, sister. I'm a big brand already, and I ain't changing for nobody. So stop being so hung up on looking cute. Just use this bag for your stuff, and zip it!" Well, excuse us, JanSport, but appearances matter to us! If we want an attractive backpack and you don't deliver, we'll search elsewhere. We're looking to form relationships with brands that respect our priorities and put in the extra effort to meet us halfway. And sometimes that means working on your appearance.

Problem two, insensitivity. JanSport says, "I'm not your shrink, I'm just your bag. Your self-esteem and boy issues aren't my problem, but I thought I'd bring them up just to push your buttons. Now buy me." JanSport, why are trying to upset us? Boys and self-esteem are two top priorities for girls, so if you're mocking these topics, you're either cruel or just clueless. We don't expect your bag to do miracles, but we do expect a little respect. We respond to care and compassion.

Finally, negligence. JanSport doesn't seem to notice that its relationship with girls goes way back and, more important, that us girls have worked to overcome our first dull and ugly impressions. In fact, we've moved on to developed a happy decorative partnership. For years, we've prettied up JanSport bags with markers, patches, keychains, iron-ons, embroidery, and glitter. We love it when people appreciate our efforts to make things work. We want the same thing from a brand.

DYSFUNCTIONAL STANDARDS. And just because most girls won't invest this much thought into your ad, that doesn't mean it'll work. The average girl's reaction will be more instinctive: Within 10 seconds, she'll subconsciously associate the ad with a personal negative experience, get a bad feeling, and be turned off.

Now we hope you're starting to understand. Why would a girl want to build a relationship with a backpack company that treats her like a nightmare date? She wouldn't! And JanSport isn't unique in its approach to the girl market -- dysfunctional print ads have become the standard.

Based on this advertising behavior, we're guessing that most of you haven't had a successful date for quite some time! But us girls have a personal interest in your success. After all, you do take up a lot of pages in our favorite publications. So let us explain.

POWERFUL TOOL. You want us to love you -- commit to you -- but how do you treat us? You play on our fears and exaggerate our flaws. You belittle our problems and hold us to unrealistic ideals. You talk down to us and take our attention for granted. Not to mention that thing you have for hanging around with underdressed supermodel chicks. (If you're trying to impress a boy, then maybe sarcasm and supermodels are the way to go, but not for us.)

We wouldn't tolerate a boy treating us like this -- we'd call him a jerk. So why should we tolerate this nonsense from you?

Yes, we know that Big Business doesn't work like high school. But the dating analogy is a powerful and practical evaluation tool. Understand it, and you'll avoid wasting millions of dollars on lame, insensitive, ineffective, and outright brand-damaging ads. Avoid the don'ts, exploit the dos, and you'll be winning us over in no time.

Class dismissed.


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