Gender targeting is an own goal for brands

Think only men are watching football? Then it's time to ditch your preconceptions and find out who your audience really is and what they want, writes the founder of mobile adtech company Widespace.

While a great number of male sport fans, depressed by another shocking England performance, switched over to watch the tennis instead, many of my English female friends kept posting Facebook updates about Italian penalty-takers, Iceland’s never-say-die mentality and the battle of the Galacticos in Wales v Portugal for the rest of the tournament.

According to the statisticians at GlobalWebIndex, women online users post high figures for watching all major football tournaments. Even Thursday night football in the UEFA Europa League is watched by a 30% female audience, while a FIFA World Cup will attract a 43% female viewership.

Women are a growing, significant audience for major sports as well as gaming and other previously male dominated pass-times. Although this shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, why is it then that a host of brands still see this advertising landscape as male-only targeting? Don’t women bet on football too?

Isn’t it time we threw-off the gender stereotype targeting assumptions and looked at who the true audiences are?

The targeting your targeting could smell like

One brand that has adjusted its marketing after discovering that a large proportion of its target audience is actually female is Old Spice.

Once seen as outdated and horribly uncool, Procter & Gamble’s acquisition of Old Spice in 1990 has resulted in a complete turnaround of public perceptions of the brand with innovative and memorable ad campaigns that appealed to both genders.

The fragrance range is now seen as a completely viable and desirable men’s fragrance option next to other traditional brands like Right Guard and Axe, and has its own unique brand identity to boot – one which appeals equally to women and men.

Perhaps it’s the fact that P&G has historically marketed to women (flagship brands in the past have included Pampers and Crest toothpaste, both heavily female-skewed products) but the Old Spice campaigns spoke directly to women, addressing them "Hello ladies" - perhaps recognizing that wives and girlfriends would be buying the product for their menfolk just as often as men would buy it for themselves.

"The man your man could smell like" campaign in particular made clear that, although the product was meant for men, the brand could appeal to every audience.

Pregnant women love fast food

Sportswear heavyweight Nike has long known the value of reaching out to both men and women, often in distinct ways. 2016 saw the launch of the "Margot vs. Lily" campaign, a mini-series aimed at millennial women.

The series recognised the power of storytelling for a female audience, and rather than pushing an image of feminine perfection, the series’ characters were complex and flawed, meaning that the message resounded with a broader range of people and made the sportswear brand a more accessible prospect for a large number of women.

Technology can help brands discover who they should really be targeting. The brand algorithm we use at Widespace uses machine learning to identify which target audience is most interested, and then adapts the targeting to that audience.

An example is a fast food chain that initially wanted to target its usual all-male demographic. We suggested it should let the algorithm decide. Unsurprisingly, the male audience ranked high on interest, but we also found that pregnant women ranked considerably higher on the interest scale than the average male.

If brands are focused on using data to discover true audience demographics, then creative teams can work harder to appeal across genders and social profiling, which in turn more often produces better, more creative campaigns.

Lazy advertising, which misrepresents a single demographic group should be consigned to the Mad Men era. If all I have to do is go onto Facebook to see which of my female friends announced that they were watching the Euro 2016 final, imagine what brands can do with the swathes of available audience data. There’s no longer an excuse for audience assumptions in a data-driven world.

Henric Ehrenblad is the founder of mobile adtech company Widespace

Start Your Free 30-Day Free Trial

Get the very latest news and insight from Campaign with unrestricted access to, plus get exclusive discounts to Campaign events.

Become a subscriber


Don’t miss your daily fix of breaking news, latest work, advice and commentary.

register free