No Pink

What the GOP Can Learn from the NFL’s Outreach to Women

Advertisers during the football games have started to realize that women are among the viewers and don’t just want pink, girly products. Politicians should take note.

Joe Robbins/Getty,Joe Robbins

This Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup between the Broncos and the Seahawks will pit two extremely impressive football teams against one another on the field. Bruno Mars will perform. And many, many people will tune in to watch the ads.

Super Bowl ads are infamous, in large part because they are what Nielsen calls “the most expensive 30 seconds on TV.” With millions of bucks on the line, advertisers aim to one-up each other with the funniest, most memorable spots. And let’s be honest—most of the ads are for the guys. It’s not just during the Super Bowl, though; tune in any given football Sunday to be treated to an assortment of ads for dudes, selling dude stuff, and doing dude things. (Also possibly featuring a woman in a bikini or a woman being a buzzkill.)

Which is why I was so excited to discover that I, too, could suffer from “#FOMOF.”

Let’s rewind a moment: I am a football fan. I play Fantasy Football in multiple leagues and am relatively obsessive about it. I get sad when I don’t have access to the RedZone Channel on the weekend because it means I have to pick just one game to watch. I own a Broncos jersey. (Tebow. #15. Not ashamed.)

But I am not the consumer that, say, Old Spice has in mind when they create creepy spots featuring mothers spying on their sons’ adventures in manhood. I am probably not the target of Denis Leary’s request to check out what brand of pickup truck the guys are driving at the construction site down the block.

So imagine my surprise when one day, there it was, cutting through the Bros Drinking Beer advertising clutter: a group of women at a baby shower sit around cooing at tiny pink clothes. Our protagonist, a woman at the party, gives the camera a knowing, frustrated look. “I’m missing kickoff for this?” She chomps into a big pink cupcake. #FOMOF: Fear Of Missing Out On Football.

Oh my God, I thought. I’m not alone.

The truth is that I’m really not. Nearly half of those watching the Super Bowl will be women. The NFL has recently started to understand not just the power of the size of the female fanbase, but also how best to market to them—by ditching what is known as the outdated, clichéd “shrink it and pink it” approach. Instead of treating women like an oddball subset in need of its own, cutesy lady marketing, the NFL realized that women want to, say, wear their team’s colors just like the guys.

And whether it’s the #FOMOF cupcake or the recent Chevy Silverado ad about “a woman and her truck,” it seems some savvy brands are realizing that marketing to women doesn’t just mean dusting everything with pink and glitter and emotions, or buying advertising time on Lifetime and E!. It means treating women not as some alien species or subgroup. Sometimes we’re bummed about missing football. Sometimes we need a truck that can pull a couple thousand pounds. Not a women’s truck. Just a truck.

Nowhere do we hear more these days about “marketing to women” than in the world of politics. There are “women’s issues” to be focused on and there is “women’s outreach” to be done. (Never fear, gals, you get special “Women For So-And-So” bumper stickers around election time! Possibly in a swirly, scripted font!). Give me five minutes searching YouTube and I can find you a plethora of campaign ads clearly targeted at women that talk about reproduction, but far fewer that talk about economic growth. And that’s a shame.

Is either party starting to get what advertisers have started to embrace about marketing to women? Just look at last Tuesday’s State of the Union and its response. President Obama invoked Mad Men to call for more “fair paycheck” because, curiously, his last federal law that claimed to guarantee “equal pay for equal work” didn’t improve things at all on that front. (To his credit, the message is an economic one.) Meanwhile, on the right, House Republican Conference Chair Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers turned in a star performance in her GOP response to the State of the Union, winning rave reviews for her focus on how economic issues hit home. The President’s pitch to women was about an issue specific to women; McMorris Rodgers’ pitch to women was about issues faced by all.

Sometimes, the best message for women doesn’t have to be all that different from the best message for men. It doesn’t have to be feminized or bedazzled. It just needs to show we’re included.

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I’ll be joining the millions of women watching the Super Bowl this Sunday. We’ll see which advertisers out there decide they want to try to win my business with their ultra-expensive spots. And in November, maybe we’ll see which approach can win more votes.