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Keeping up with Culture: How to Speak to Women

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In her first column Emily Taylor, chief strategy officer at M&C Saatchi Australia explores the ways brands can ensure their tone strikes a chord with female audiences

Keeping up with Culture: How to Speak to Women
We’re seeing major, seismic shifts in culture. Mass activism and customer engagement is surfacing issues and inequalities at pace, with it we see changing expectations for how brands behave. For an industry that prides itself on being an active participant in culture, it is critical for brands to stay abreast of these changes and action them at speed. Each month, Emily Taylor, chief strategy officer at M&C Saatchi Australia, explores a different cultural trend and the implications for brands.


With International Women’s Day around the corner, I thought I’d write about… women.  
 
I would love to have made this a happy, celebratory story. But whilst mulling over my specific topic, a tsunami of confronting articles entered my news feed. Each raising the condescending (and at times inappropriate) language women continue to deal with, even in 2021. When a taxi driver this week praised me as “a good girl” for managing to rebook a trip on my own phone, my topic was sealed.  
 
Some of the worst articles that surfaced include the horrendous interview techniques of David Letterman (admittedly from 1994 - 2013) and Rudy Giuliani’s highly inappropriate comments about world renowned Golfer Michelle Wie and her “panties”, to name a few. Off the back of this, we’re seeing a new wave of #MeToo and refreshed sensitivity about the messaging and tone of communications targeted at (or about) women.  
 
Whilst we can be confident no brand will put a message out into the world about anyone’s “panties” there is much to be learnt about tone. So here are a few tips on tone for brands who want to avoid being cancelled for insensitivity:

 
If it feels like you’re “punching down” you’ve got it wrong
 
In stand up, comedians are often encouraged to “punch up, not down”. Meaning jokes that take aim or ridicule someone less ‘powerful’ should be avoided. In other words, speaking down. Now of course, I’m not suggesting speaking to a woman is speaking down. I am a woman, why would I imply that? BUT if you say something in a tone that feels like you’re punching down, chances are you’re being condescending. So don’t. Let’s call it mansplaining, but in tone and less gender specific. Because condescension isn’t a gender thing, I’ve seen women do it to other women too - IRL and in advertising.

 
Don’t ask us to rise up, we’re tired
 
Women are exhausted (I’m not saying men aren’t, but we’re talking women here). Even before Covid, women were leaning into careers without giving up carer or household tasks. Not to mention the expectations to #metoo, call out inappropriate workplace behaviour, close the gender pay gap and get your eyebrows waxed in between. Enter a global pandemic and whilst both genders have seen their unpaid workloads increase, women are bearing more of the burden than men.  
 
So think carefully how you pitch your motivating, evocative campaign at us. The idea of rising to a challenge or forging our own path in a man’s world sounds like more work. We’ve moved past that phase, we’re ready for inclusion and equality and we’d really rather not have to fight for it.  

 
We like funny stuff too, seriously

Just because you’re communicating with women doesn’t mean it needs to be earnest. Or worse, vanilla. We’ve also got a funny bone. We’ve got so many women writing brilliant comedy in TV with a prime target of women. Yet we haven’t translated this into communications. I’m talking to you FMCG! Yes you. And you retail. Auto. Beauty.  Anyway, you get my point.  
 
What about the brands that have it right? Well luckily there are an increasing number: a playful celebration from Libresse Viva La Vulva, genuine inclusivity from Fenty, a good dash of charm from Go To Skincare, a bit of fun from Big W #rapbooks, a dose of quirk from TK Maxx or a fashion launch from inside a vagina with Miranda Makaroff X Desigual. There are, thankfully, plenty of brands who know how to talk to women. 

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M&C Saatchi Australia Group, Mon, 01 Mar 2021 14:14:55 GMT