More than 85 people were in attendance at MediaCom North Group’s Manchester office for a day-long programme of events exploring 100 years of marketing to women.

#WhatWomenWant follows research from leading research, data and insights experts, Kantar that found brands are missing out on huge financial opportunities by either ignoring women or not talking to them in a progressive way.

Kantar’s Chief Growth Officer Jane Bloomfield kicked off a series of engaging talks by revealing that a staggering 76% of female consumers believe the way they are portrayed in advertising is completely out of touch, despite the industry’s belief that they are actively creating for and representing both genders.

Jane told attendees: “Things are changing – but not fast enough. We all have a role to play in helping to change that conversation. It comes down to understanding your audience and understanding the world today. Get in front of your consumers, talk to people, don’t create something in a bubble.”

Jane Bloomfield, Chief Growth Officer, Kantar

Kenyatte Nelson, Chief Brand Officer at N Brown, whose stable of fashion retail brands includes Simply Be, JD Williams and Jacamo, also stressed the need for a shift within the industry and called for marketeers to adapt in order to unlock the 12 trillion dollar global opportunity that exists today.

He encouraged brands to drive meaningful connections, telling the audience: “In order to connect with any consumer, female or otherwise, requires a level of commitment to the deep understanding of who they are and the role your brand can play in the context of their lives. 

“Agents and agencies that create this advertising are, in the most part, still controlled by men.  So in the absence of representation, we shouldn’t be surprised that resonance is so low.”

Despite having worked on hugely success female-focussed campaigns including Always’ #LikeAGirl and last year’s Me.No.Pause for Holland & Barrett, the health retailer’s Non-Executive Director Roisin Donnelly said she believed the industry still wasn’t changing fast enough.

She told attendees: “In the advertising industry we have both incredible power and incredible responsibility. You have got the opportunity to change and to change for good, no matter what level you are in your organisation.

 “This event, the research and the exhibition are vital for us to call out opportunities as an industry and give us a call to action to move forward. We need to paint a picture of what we want the future to be and paint a picture of what women really want.”

Cristina Duffy, Group Head & Film Specialist, Pearl and Dean had jaws in the room collectively dropping with some examples of how women have been portrayed in advertising over the last 100 years.

She said that while brands were happy to tell women what they want, very few were listening to female consumers and only a small number of women’s stories were actually being by women.

She also noted that the film industry is ahead of the advertising industry in talking about their failings, “They have been drawing attention to who has been nominated and who hasn’t during awards season. The advertising industry is a bit slower to figure out what they need to do. There isn’t one answer. The nuances of advertising to women are as varied as the women themselves.”

Other speakers at the event included Jan Iceton, the board chair of Smart Works, a charity that helps unemployed women get back into work with a tailoring service and interview techniques training.

She said the organisation, which has helped over 1,800 women from Greater Manchester get back into work over the past five years, aims to help women put out the most positive representation of themselves into the world.

She added, “Promoting the self-esteem of women is fundamental to SmartWorks’ ethos and so this research from Kantar is vital to help us be at the front of that.”

Over lunch guests had the opportunity to explore the accompanying exhibitions, one of which highlighted some of the most striking examples of marketing to women over the past century while the other looked forward with a future-focused view of the cultural conversations that will inspire tomorrow’s advertising.

An afternoon panel discussion saw Roisin Donnelly joined by Chris McKay, Head of Brand Engagement at Hillary’s, Sarah Page, Managing Director of Plumbs and Claire Sanderson, Editor-in-Chief of Women’s Health.

Both Sarah and Chris shared their insights on communicating to a largely female demographic at Plumbs and Hillary’s respectively.

Sarah told the panel, “We have to be mindful of what matters to the customer and reflect it in the brand. It’s very fast-paced at the moment in terms of change so we have to keep pushing forward to make sure we are relevant in terms of the topics we are talking about.”

Speaking about the challenges facing brands today, Chris added: “There are so many different channels now where we communicate with our customers that you have to make sure you tweak the message accordingly. It’s the little nuances that you have to be really mindful of.”

Since joining Women’s Health three years ago, Claire said she has seen some changes in the marketing industry but there is still some way to go, “I think publishing is leading the way a little bit and advertising needs to catch up. There has been progression within some advertisers but some are still stuck in their ways. I have turned down ads if they don’t reflect our values.”

Meanwhile, Roisin told the panel: “Brands have got to be authentic. They have to listen to what their customers want. The first driver for a campaign should be purpose – every brand needs one. You need to look at who you are talking to and who you are not talking to.”

Panel: Sarah Page- Plumbs, Claire Sanderson- Women’s Health, Chris McKay-Hillarys and Roisin Donnelly, Holland & Barrett

Summing up, Kantar’s Chief Growth Officer, Jane Bloomfield said: “As we head into a new decade, this research shows the need for progressive marketing to match societal and business needs.  The work we have done shows that both brands and consumers feel passionate about equal representation and businesses recognising that can have a significant positive impact on the bottom line.

“In 2020 we are still seeing examples of marketing that could speak to female consumers in a much more meaningful way. 87% of women do not see themselves reflected in modern day advertising.  But brands that more equally represent men and women are worth 1bn more than those that are skewed towards men.”

Nicola Marsh, Deputy Managing Director, MediaCom North Group, who opened the event, added: “It was fascinating to have this opportunity to take a look back over 100 years of marketing to women to see how far we’ve come – but also how far we still have to go.

“The #WhatWomenWant research and accompanying exhibition has provided us with a great opportunity to get this conversation going and to start having those meaningful conversations with female consumers.”