Are women really not worth a sales pitch? Is it true that only 18-34 year old boys are worth marketing your product to?
As you may know, one of my big complaints about the film industry was how many times I endured the “We just give the audience what it wants to see” lecture. No matter how many times I – or any other young starter – won the debate by pointing out how you can’t know what people want to see until you give them a choice, the argument started fresh again the next day. Like religious dogma – a belief based on faith and hope, not logic.
What a way to run a business.
Network executives approach the philosophy backwards: they decide what they want to give the audience, then construct evidence that “proves” the audience wants it, then show that evidence to the poor fools they’re selling airtime to. Because that’s their real goal: to sell airtime. And if they could somehow do that without an audience, we wouldn’t even be considered. What they really need is evidence they can put the sponsor’s product in front of people who will want it. Which means the sponsor has to know the appropriate audience for the product, and that’s a tidbit they’re going to glean from a market research consultant.
You see the loop we’re stuck in? Market research tells us who’s watching what on TV. And market research tells sponsors who they want to have watching their commercials. All the marketing research market has to do is pick one scenario, and “prove” it. This explains why faith in ratings persists, even though ratings don’t accurately reflect who in the household watched a show; who taped another channel at the same time for later viewing; who leaves the room while your commercial is on; or whether they watched the whole show, or tuned in for five minutes before looking for something better. If a sponsor notices that a commercial didn’t bring in the sales she was expecting, she’s got both the market researching consultant and the network telling her it must have been her commercial at fault, or a failure to cross-market the commercial with store promotions. If she’s absolutely determined it’s the TV shows failing to bring in the audience she needs, she’ll turn to – you guessed it – a marketing consultant to find out what the shows are lacking.
This begs the question: why would the industry pick the 18-34 year old male demographic as the only one it wants to fool with? Maybe because that’s the mentality most filmmakers are stuck in. Modern day Peter Pans with arrested development, who never got past drooling over bikini models and wishing a beautiful girl would date them so all the boys who beat them up in junior high would have to respect them. Sad little dweebs who, despite all the money and strings of gorgeous wives, never got over the high school princesses who – in their minds – laughed their advances off cruelly to be with football team captains who went on to mistreat them. (The possibility that they got rejected for being creepily insecure doesn’t seem to occur to this type.) I can’t prove this hypothesis, of course, but doesn’t it sound like a number of standard TV forumlas? Ask any actor who’s everything the high school football captain was: gorgeous, confident, popular with the ladies. Ask him about the jealousy-driven abuse he’s endured at the hands of producers and directors who make more money than he does. And while you’re at it, ask the gorgeous actresses about the whole pedestal routine: how they flatter her up there, then knock her down, over and over until they’ve got her believing she’s somehow failing, and only they can rescue her and make her a star.
Are these the business ethos – or even the guilty fantasies – of mature, well-adjusted men?
The industry didn’t start out marketing products only to the little boys they identified with.
“Soap operas” were created initially by radio stations, then adapted by TV network executives, to sell laundry detergent to housewives, so the stories were all about stuff they thought women liked: romance and scandal. Not every woman watched soaps – many regarded them as sinful, or just didn’t like them. But every woman bought laundry detergent, and there was no way to tell if they were influenced by the TV commercial, by friends who’d seen the TV commercial, or by their own research.
So it looked like soap operas were working – and I’ll grant that they probably were – but to get that competitive edge, someone had to determine why they were working. And that’s where the magic of interpretation comes in. Ratings interpretation is… well, it’s a more exact science than tarot reading, but it’s roughly equivalent to Bible interpretation. The difference is, you can’t go read the ratings for yourself like you can read the Bible, and decide what you think the information means. Tele-Confucius say: ratings none of your business! Go watch what we tell you! So, did soaps work because women love female stars, or because women like scandal and soft porn? Did Buffy do well because people loved the lead actress, or because of the lead actors, or maybe the nifty special effects? You trust the network to tell you the truth, don’t you? Now go sit down.
How did we go from Mom to the first son as our marketing target? Again, I think the narcissim and arrested development of the teenage boys in men’s bodies who run the film and TV industries comes into play. It was in the early 80’s that marketing research suddenly started indicating that 18-25 year old boys (it’s only recently been upgraded to 18-34) were the biggest spending market in America. It was also in the 80’s that most women started working jobs outside the home, and misleading studies about careers causing miscarriages and “the man shortage” were released to scare women into hastily donning the Donna Reed lifestyle. Coincidence, or a backlash by men who weren’t ready to stop being the center of their wives’/mommy’s lives?
In any case: Huh? Does anyone actually believe 18-25 year old boys are the best market? Does anyone actually know a teenage boy who can afford every gizmo he wants? For years, people with access to marketing research have been struggling to point out the truth you observed in childhood: Mommy does the shopping.
From BusinessWeek Online:
Women earn less money than their counterparts — 78 cents for every dollar a man gets. But they make more than 80% of buying decisions in all homes.
This is not news. These statistics were roughly the same in the ’80’s. But wait: maybe the next sentence provides a clue:
And women shop differently from the way men do: Females research more extensively and are less likely to be influenced by ads.
Well, there you go. That’s women for you. They rejected your pitches of woo in high school, and now they’re rejecting your pitches of product. Ungrateful wenches.
From the Washington Business Journal online, reprinted from the June 12, 1998 print edition, and thus proving this is hardly news:
A surprisingly large number of companies continue to ignore female consumers. You do so at your own peril. Last year, women earned more than $1 trillion dollars, and 64 percent of all working women now earn more than half their family’s income.
Here’s a thought. Maybe it’s not globalization or “made in China” or Enron that’s been hurting the American economy since 2001. Maybe it’s men who are too ruled by emotion to make sensible business decisions.