Are women their own worst enemies?


I’m writing some features at the moment for a newspaper about women in business, and have spent a good chunk of this week asking various brands, marketing experts and advertising types “How do you sell to women?”

As a blogger, I’m finding the discussion fascinating – all the professionals I’ve interviewed agree that women and men have different ‘triggers’ that persuade them to make a purchase or support one brand over another. For women, consensus and conversation seem to be important, which maybe explains why brands are interested in social media.  For men, it’s more likely to be strength and achievement.

But an ad exec I spoke with yesterday said something I found really interesting – and a bit shocking.

“The key to selling to women is tapping into their desire to criticise one another.”

Just think about that. What the advertising exec was saying was that if you want to sell something to a woman, one of the most effective ways of doing this is not just to persuade her that in buying Brand X she will be better than the woman buying Brand Y, but to persuade her that the woman buying Brand Y is inferior in some way.

The ad exec said that’s why campaigns often incorporate the idea of ‘blemished perfection’ – so ads will typically show a woman who is just like you, only a little bit "better". Thinner, richer, prettier, more successful at work, sexier, whatever. She is a reflection of the you that you’d like to be. Except she will always have a flaw. She’ll always be open to criticism.  

There’s an argument this is just about making women in the media relatable – after all, I don’t want to be friends with smug, perfect types in real-life and that sort of person wouldn’t persuade me to buy a product, either.

But I do sometimes suspect women are far more judgemental of each other than men are of other men.

In my professional experience, I'd say you have to work a lot harder to win over a woman than a man. And women can be incredibly hostile to other women in situations where (if it was a man) it would all blow over. Ultimately, I suspect most men don’t particularly care what other men are getting up to, where women (myself included) can't help but keep measuring up, comparing, worrying if we’re good enough.

What do you think? Are women naturally critical of one another? Or are we more supportive than some parts of the marketing industry gives us credit for?

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