NatWest is taking a beating for its “tone-deaf” attempt to target women. The campaign launched with a tongue-in-cheek letter from an old-style bowler-hatted banker apologising for ignoring or patronising women in the past. The bank’s intentions were good. A spokesperson for NatWest said, “While many women feel confident when it comes to finances and investing, research has shown that a huge number of women don’t feel the same way.” All the same, this is a clear case of Oops, your strategy is showing. It’s not wrong to target those who have this need, but it is simplistic to make it all about women. Chances are a lot of men “don’t feel the same way” either. Sell me the benefit, not the strategy. I’ll decide if it applies to me.

What could be worse than saying we’re targeting women because they don’t understand money? In the 1980s Johnson & Johnson launched Empathy shampoo, clearly targeting older women. It didn’t last long. Presumably there was some functional benefit based on how hair changes with age, but it just came across as being for older women. Whatever the benefit was supposed to be, it transpired that nobody wants to buy the shampoo for old folks.

Targeting a group so explicitly based on one demographic is always a risky business. It’s one thing to say, “if you feel this way, we can do this for you”, knowing that women are more likely to feel that way. It’s a bit different to say, “This is for women”. Even if it’s true, no one likes to be told they’re all the same. The strategy may be to target women but that should be the media strategy not the message. It may seem old-fashioned, but you can’t go wrong with an insight about the need, leading to a clear benefit-led proposition. Just don’t tell them it?s because they’re old or female.

Comment | June 2019