When my dad was 55 he was fired. They fired everyone in his company over 50. He sold property and casualty insurance in a midsized midwestern city for a family owned brokerage firm. When the business was sold to a larger multi-national firm out of San Francisco, ‘they’ believed that someone in a smaller market would be easily replaceable and that a large national brokerage would have no problem retaining all of my dad’s clients. They were wrong. Not only did my dad have a new job in less than 24 hours, every single one of his clients went with him.
As I sat through the many inspiring practicums at last week’s Conscious Capitalism Conference, I couldn’t help but think; This isn’t new. Being honest, forthright, putting others first, working hard for a bigger and better future for everyone, is exactly how my dad and mom taught us to be. Before it was fashionable to ask about the ‘why’ or have a noble selling purpose, my parents were teaching us those same lessons, in the 70s, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The reason my dad’s clients stayed with him, was simple. They trusted him. As a person and as professional. You can’t fake that.
It has become incredibly fashionable to take up women’s empowerment as a marketing tool. From Dove, to Under Armour to Disney reinventing the idea of a princess, marketers are jumping on the feminist bandwagon for credibility and sales. While all of that is well and good, it is the safe ‘radical feminist’ issue. Most American consumers believe women should have equal rights and high self-esteem, there is no drama around that. But how women are supported to live an empowered life means having say over their body. Cornerstone to that right, is reproductive freedom. And that freedom is in jeopardy. Access to birth control and abortion is under increasing assault. From abortion providers losing privileges in hospitals to birth control not being covered by insurance, women everywhere are losing a basic right that will have generational impact. These stats show it is a mainstream issue. In the US, half will have a unintented pregnancy before 45, 1 in 3 of those will be aborted. 69% of women who have abortions are economically disadvantaged and as of now, 4.1 million single moms are living in poverty. The need for contraception is getting bigger as more women are waiting to have their first child. Want women to “will what they want”? Help them protect their reproductive rights.
Who is this ‘mom’?
For the past 20 years my job has been to sell to ‘mom’. You know, that woman between 25 and 60 who makes anywhere from $45,000 to $100,000 a year. She’s really busy apparently and loves her family a lot. In fact her whole self-esteem is wrapped up in how much she can do for them and how much money she can save the family in any given week. She loves them so much she lives to join loyalty programs, to coupon and plan for weekly shopping trips, unless she is making a quick on the go trip to a drug store, aka, the female convenience store to pick up milk and a prescription. Yea this information is super specific and makes ‘mom’ sound like.
Too often when I received a brief at work, this is the most I got about her. Moms are people, women typically, who are extremely complex and different from one another. Take me for example. I am a mom, a single mom with two kids who lives in a major metropolitan city. I live my life in a very intuitive way, not a lot of planning, but strangely Type A all the same. I get Tarot Card readings, do a lot of yoga, swear a fair amount and love wine. I would NEVER join a loyalty program, well maybe. In the past, I have voted for the same amount of Republicans as I have Democrats. I used to work with another ‘mom’ who was my complete opposite. She packed a peanut butter and jelly sandwich everyday, went to an evangelical church, lived in the suburbs, her household income was roughly the same as mine but her beliefs about the world and how she acted on them were completely different than mine. She and I ended up having a really close friendship and were always surprised by each other. But what would motivate her and how she would gage work was completely different than my lens.
I would love it if when we made briefs we used a character from TV or literature to build our story around. Say Anne Sexton, who was a horrible mother and really addicted to personal expression, much like mommy bloggers. Or say Hilary Clinton, who is a working mom and doesn’t say sorry. What we want from marketers to is acknowledge that our lives are complicated and we are complicated. More rich and deeper than being completely focused on making a weekly shopping list.
When Sean Penn was on “Inside the Actors Studio,” he was asked how he chooses a film. He was his famously self important but honest self, “The medium is too powerful not to be responsible. I only do material that is illuminating of the human spirit.” Now mind you I had a chuckle when I saw him on Friends a few days later, BUT for years whether I was writing a coupon, or concepting promotions or even coming up with a bigger positioning for a brand, I thought about that. Now we don’t make movies, but what we do come into millions of people’s homes and, if we have done our job, change what they buy, how they feel about it and themselves. We have the power to influence culture and make change, for better or worse. We know this. Some brands have used this power for good, good for themselves and good their consumers. When Virginia Slims aligned itself with the fledgling Women’s Tennis Association in the 70s it helped bring about equal prize money for females athletes and grow the sport. Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty brought a needed positive voice and perspective into the conversation about body image.
These examples show that when marketing is at its best, is it radical. It shakes us and forces to look at ourselves differently. One of its first revolutionary acts was on behalf of the cigarette industry. Lucky Strike asked debutantes in the 20s to smoke as a ‘protest’ in an Easter Day parade shifting the perception of cigarettes as unladylike to a tool of female empowerment. So what’s next for brands? What is the radical shift it can bring about for today? It is time to go deeper. To go beyond image to tangible change in consumer’s lives. Pick an ill, hunger, the ever- evaporating middle class, education, the desire to start small businesses. Brands do try, occasionally, to go beyond a heartfelt commercial. Walmart’s policy of offering $4 prescriptions changed people’s lives. The Pepsi Refresh project did allocate millions of dollars toward worthy causes. Starbucks started the conversation of buying American. But we need to do more. What if P&G really lived their brand purpose of being the Proud Sponsor of Moms and joined forces with Maria Shriver to help build programs that helped the 40% of mothers who are in danger of staying or falling into poverty with their families. What if Walmart actually helped change the minimum wage so that their own people didn’t have to go on food stamps to support their families, or create economic environments that supported small businesses in the communities they inhabit, rather than wiping them out. What if McDonald’s sourced all of their produce and meat from farms that use organic and sustainable methods, causing a change effect that forces all farming to change how they do business. What if? I think going to work would be more fun and interesting.