With ‘guyliner’ hitting the shelves at Superdrug, and Angelina Jolie replacing Tom Cruise as the action hero du jour, it is clear that the world is changing and that consumers are shunning macho approaches to marketing. The testosterone language and macho approach of the 80s no longer holds sway with today’s consumers. Knowing that men moisturise and women use power tools is no longer enough for brands, which must take note of the move toward a softer, more feminine approach to marketing. Whether the family-friendly, soft focus of David Cameron’s ‘Compassionate Conservatism’ or the all-inclusive gender and age-neutral stance of Nintendo, brands are quickly learning that it pays to get in touch with their feminine side. A clear example of this shift can be seen in politics - traditionally a barometer of worldwide public opinion. In the US race for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton’s strategists insisted that in order to win the vote she needed to demonstrate she could ‘man’ up to the job. Her campaign focused on communicating male attributes - competitive, ambitious, tireless, focused and highly skilled at the game. Funds were spent on dominating airtime, impressing voters with her omnipresence and broadcasting her leadership skills in top-down channels such as TV and billboards. The insight she and her advisers missed, however, was that US voters were tired and suspicious of traditional ‘authoritative leadership’ styles. They wanted someone who seemed to connect on their level and be on the level; someone who could represent real change from the cynicism they believed pervaded Washington. People wanted someone who was less of the macho and more of the empathetic. Clinton should have represented this sort of change, but she decided instead to stick to the masculine status quo - big mistake. In swept Barack Obama with what could be described as a classically feminine campaign. Instead of attempts to impress through TV dominance, there was dialogue at a grass-roots level through sophisticated use of the web and commitment to community meetings. The values he represented contrasted with Clinton in being more collaborative, more human, more feelings-led and people-focused. Clinton played at being a man, and Obama ended up using what should have been his rival’s strongest card: he recognised that feminine values and approaches promised the sort of change voters wanted. This same shift toward the feminine is visible in the strategy adopted for the Conservative Party. What could be more masculine than the on-your-bike/there’s no society individualism of old-style Conservatism? To have any chance of becoming electable, the party has had to develop fresh traits and talents with a conspicuously feminine character: more empathetic, more collaborative and with a clear strand of ‘hug a hoody’ sympathy.
Gordon Brown, in contrast, is suffering the consequences of a traditionally masculine approach - prioritising the linear and logical over feelings, eschewing collaboration for authority. In the commercial context, ‘the feminine’ is the most fertile place to achieve differentiation and growth. For years, it has been the case that women make 80% of purchase decisions in household categories, but now, in the high-value markets where they were once considered peripheral, women have astonishing power - both direct and indirect. In the US, women are believed to account for nearly 60% of new car purchases and 89% of new bank accounts. In the UK, nearly two-thirds of computer purchases are said to be made by women, and more than 40% in the automotive sector. Moreover, women make up 63% of online shopping customers. In every sector, the rising influence of the female consumer is dramatic; by 2025, it is estimated that women will account for 60% of the UK’s personal wealth. Nintendo is one such brand that has successfully embraced feminine traits. Three years ago, Sony PlayStation was the clear leader in gaming, defining the market with testosterone-driven games that had high doses of combat, guts and gore. Fast-forward to 2008 and Nintendo is streets ahead of its rival, which has concentrated completely on young male gamers. Through pursuing a strategy focusing on the family - epitomised by the Johnny and Zo‘ Ball Wii ads - Nintendo has drawn in the rest of the world’s gamers. In comparison to PlayStation’s masculine, technology-driven approach, Nintendo has embraced a strategy that reaches women, older men, family and social players. By recognising that PlayStation’s exclusively male-dominated imagery and approach effectively excluded anyone who wasn’t young or masculine, Nintendo found its niche. It went against the grain of competition and included women in its core audience. Welcomed women by introducing feminine aesthetics in product marketing - with light-filled, curvy, bright and peoplebased products. It focused on content that appeals to the motivations of both sexes, such as self-improvement (Brain Training), fitness (Wii Fit) and nurturing (Nintendogs), rather than simply on competition.