You’ll Have to Do Better Than Pink: Women-Focused Marketing

You'll Have to Do Better than PinkSomehow, and unfortunately, “let’s make a pink version of our product and sell it to ladies” has caught on as a legitimate marketing technique. On the surface, it’s lazy marketing. Look deeper, and you’ll find stereotype-fueled assumptions about women’s lack of interest in finding out real information about products and businesses. Backed up by recent research into gender-based social media and business trends, here are a few tips for gearing your site, blog, and sales talk towards women without invoking sexist concepts.

The Problem With Pink

Marketing and advertising are hugely fueled by gender stereotyping and assumptions. Just take a quick glance at PolicyMic’s recent list, 2012’s Best and Worst Attempts to Sell Stuff to Women, and it will become instantly clear that gender plays a huge role in today’s efforts to sell products – and that a lot of advertising unfortunately falls on the negative side of this.

Look around you in any store, and you’ll see products for women plastered in pink, from Bic pens (as seen on the PolicyMic list) to yogurt (popularly satirized by comedienne Sarah Haskins) to dumbbells, all the way down the line to taser guns. Blogs geared towards women, whether for crafting, parenting, financing, or fitness-ing, are decked out in pink and purple schemes, ostensibly to appeal to a female audience.

So what’s the big deal, and why do you need to be better?

Women Aren’t Stupid

No, really. Here’s the deal: do marketers, advertisers, bloggers, etc., really believe that women are going to buy their products or utilize their services just because of a color scheme?

Without getting into all of the ways that gendered advertising can negatively affect self-image for both women and men, the problem with pink and other similar “women-focused” advertising techniques is that they all rest on the assumption that women care more about the color of a product than about its function, price, or quality. While this is problematic to begin with, it also simply isn’t true.

“Forget Pink”

Earlier this year, Consumer Electronics’ market research team compiled a report called Women and CE. BusinessWire described the findings of the report, and quoted Consumer Electronics’ director of strategic market research as saying, “Forget pink” when it comes to designing a sales campaign. Why? It turns out that color is actually way down on the list of factors that come into play when women make a purchasing decision.

In fact, in the studies done by Consumer Electronics, men and women both cited the same top factors in their decision making processes: price, ease of use, warranty, and multiple functionality. One of the only gender-based decision making factors was the size and weight of the product, and that only came after the top four (and was higher on the list than color, I might add).

Women are fully aware of the assumptions inherent in pink-centric campaigns, and they aren’t happy with the fact that marketers have a tendency to give them a color scheme rather than concrete information or an engaging social media marketing campaign. Campaigns based on color schemes and assumptions about what women want are alienating female consumers: a shocking 91% of women reported that advertisers don’t understand them or their needs.

All in all, this is not particularly good news for profits if your business relies on pink as an advertising technique, as companies rely more and more on sharing and networking through social media to market their products.

Better Alternatives

You want to market to women – that makes sense. After all, recent data suggests that women account for over 80% of consumer purchases made in the United States, mention name brand products roughly 16 more times a week than men, and are far more active in sharing and following brands in the social media world.

Luckily, there are better options than “pinkification.” This summer, a group of marketers brought together by brand experience agency Jack Morton put together a document called “Beyond Pink: Marketing to Women,” which suggests the following tactics for directing your sales campaign at women:


  • Build Relationships. Draw on women’s extensive social networking use and brand loyalty, and involve women in your campaign. Ask your consumers what their priorities are.
  • Create Experiences. Include user-generated content to bring a personal feel to your campaign.
  • Educate & Inform. Highlight the features of your product or service, and discuss why they work for women’s needs.
  • Go Beyond Pink. Whatever you do, engage your client and consumer base with more than a color scheme, and understand that women today fulfill multiple roles.


Likewise, the Outdoor Industry Foundation points out that transparency can be a positive way for businesses to market to women. Rather than just saying, “this product is for women,” explain how it can fit into the unique contexts of women’s lives.

Or, if you want to cater to women with a more gender-neutral campaign, consider that women tend to prefer working with businesses where shopping is a more “streamlined and intuitive” experience. By catering to women’s shopping habits specifically, you can bring in a bigger female client base without explicitly invoking the idea that your products or business are “for women.”

Moving Forward

Whatever your business entails, realize that the people who are most likely to talk about your products and services through social media and the people who are most likely to be making a household’s decision about patronizing your business are women. Don’t alienate them through “women-focused” campaigns that rely on pink-washing to sell your product or service.

Instead, think about ways that you can appeal to a female client base without making assumptions about what draws women to products. Talk to your female customers. Engage with them to develop a dialog about what they find useful, what factors they rely on to make spending decisions, and what roles and tasks they juggle in a given day. In short, treat your female customers like people, not a stereotype.

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Beans graduated from Smith College in 2011 with a BA in History of Women, Gender, and Sexuality, and has worked as a farmer, a cook on a food truck, and an archival assistant. Outside of writing and editing for CEM, Beans enjoys reading voraciously, watching space documentaries, and baking vegan treats. Currently, Beans lives in Salt Lake City, UT.

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