In general, women tend to make most of the purchases and buying decisions in households. Accordingly, marketers have long targeted women with advertising and promotions designed to get them to buy. But that targeting often makes some assumptions about who women are—assumptions that can be troublesome, both for ethical reasons and because they fail to appeal to the actual features that modern women display.

Lo-res_33727922_xxl-SIn particular, growing numbers of women do not have children. But modern advertising does not reflect that reality at all. Whether for paper towels or cars, marketing communications nearly always identify the focal woman in the advertisement as a mom, cleaning up her kids’ spilled milk or getting all the children to soccer practice on time.

Demographic data instead indicate that more women than ever before do not have children, whether by choice or not. For example, more than 15 percent of U.S. women between the ages of 40 and 44 years are childless. These consumers tend to spend more on beauty products than women with children. They also spend more on grocery items overall, seemingly because they can buy fancier, higher priced products that they enjoy, rather than being limited to purchasing the relatively inexpensive frozen chicken tenders or macaroni and cheese that their children will agree to eat for dinner.

The exceptions to the widespread exclusion of childless women from marketing communications tend to come from companies selling services rather than consumer products. For example, Westin Hotels offered a “Womanhood Redefined” package that encouraged single women to visit their properties to enjoy a weekend getaway, including consultations on healthy living with experts from the hotel’s gym and kitchen staff.

Through an extensive study among female customers without children, TD Bank even identified a market gap where it could introduce a new investment product. That is, the bank learned that many women buy gifts for children, such as their nieces and nephews or their friends’ kids, but few of them started savings accounts for those beloved youngsters. Therefore, TD Bank developed a product that would enable them to contribute small amounts to an account that they could share with the children they love but are not legally responsible to support, such as an early college fund.

Such examples also reflect the great risk that marketers are taking when they ignore the reality of millions of women. Ignoring women without children, and implying that being a woman necessarily means being a mother, can be frustrating and even offensive for a huge market of potential customers. Even women with children might appreciate being marketed to as a person, not just a mother. As one marketing expert requested, “How about a car commercial where the woman is not the passenger of some hot dude, or picking up her kids, but just living her life?”

Discussion Question:

  1. How attractive is the segment of women without children? Apply the five sOPUsegmentation criteria (identifiable, substantial, reachable, responsive, and profitable) to determine your answer.

Source: Alina Tugend, “Childless Women to Marketers: We Buy Things Too,” The New York Times, July 9, 2016