Target audiences: Why do dishes when you can do daiquiris? and other modern questions

A December 16 opinion column in USA Today by Laura Vanderkam titled “Mags show just how far women have come” takes a look at the evolution of “the culture of homemaking” through the lens of 50 years of glossy-paged women’s magazines.

It’s a great piece, with the author observing that most “cultural assumptions” about women have largely disappeared, namely that cooking, cleaning, and all such housework is the only proper and fun way for ladies to fill their days.

This disappearance of cultural assumptions has bred a huge female sector of the population that is now an important target market for businesses that know how to cater to them and, more important, who understand the psychology of why and what we buy.

Go into any chic coffee shop or boutique and check out the lines of merchandise catered to the independent, career-oriented woman who may or may not have a partner or family but works hard to divide her time equally among all things she loves.

“Domestically disabled.” “Make your own damn dinner.” “I dreamed my whole house was clean.” “Why do dishes when you can do daiquiris?” Anne Taintor has made a living from incorporating vintage illustrations of women with not-so-vintage cultural concepts and putting these concepts on everything from coin purses to flasks.

And many women love this merchandise. It’s not an Anne Taintor, but my favorite magnet in my office has an illustration of a woman smiling coyly with the caption “She knew how to please a man but most days she chose not to.” Whether or not it’s a personal creed, we enjoy knowing we can adopt it as one now and then. And that there’s less judgment for “good (enough) housekeeping” or not doing Wednesday lunch dishes until Thursday night. Or, like Sex and the City‘s Carrie Bradshaw, knowing there’s nothing wrong with using our stoves to store sweaters.

The one thing to remember when marketing to this sector of women, and any target market for that matter, is that, as the commentators on Vanderkam’s article point out post after post, we have choices.

That’s the focal point. We can choose to store our sweaters in the oven or we can choose to use the oven to bake muffins for our friends or kids. There is no wrong choice, and neither option makes a woman any less or more of a woman. What matters is that marketers continue to provide options, and we choose what’s best for us.

“But honey…decision-making is women’s work.” Thanks, Anne Taintor. That’ll be my next magnet.

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3 thoughts on “Target audiences: Why do dishes when you can do daiquiris? and other modern questions

  1. Crystal says:

    I’m interested in what you term as, cultural concepts, in anthropology we are obsessed with what culture means, as in, how do we define it? Is it even definable? I was wondering what culture means to advertising. It’s always interesting for me to see what another area of expertise sees when they look at culture. I know that this post refers to the cultural construction of gender and, more specifically, a construction that is associated with (in my mind at least) middle class American values. What does culture mean to advertisers?

    • abbymalikpr says:

      Another fun thing about Anne Taintor and similar products is that the interpretations are up for debate.

      I have a greeting card at home, sitting there, waiting for me to send to my partner, that says, “Nothing turns me on more than a man at my kitchen sink!”

      Four quick possible interpretations:
      1) I hate doing dishes.
      2) I think men should do dishes.
      3) I don’t mind doing dishes, it’s just a funny card.
      4) I don’t mind doing dishes, but if you want to do them…awww…that’d be nice.

      And I’m sure there’s more!

  2. abbymalikpr says:

    When advertisers consider “culture,” they specifically consider the culture of buying: the psychology behind why people buy. What influences them, what makes them tick, what turns them off…what ticks them off!

    Culture, in its anthropological definition, is taken into consideration, and then markets are formed from those groups of people. It’s all about dividing and conquering – researching and putting individuals into groups (large and small and everything in between) in order to form markets, and then targeting these markets with appropriate messages in order to get them to act, whether it’s to buy something, to say something, to wear something, to do something, or to believe in something.

    I hope that answers your question!

    Oh, one more thing: marketing and advertising can go horribly awry when a business attempts to target a group of people whose culture hasn’t been thoroughly researched.

    Here’s an article, “The 15 Biggest PR Disasters of The Decade.” Bet these people didn’t even think about “culture” before jumping head first into these disasters!

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