The tailored businesswoman stares icily from a billboard. In her hand is a large cigar, and she is decorated with large amounts of gold and diamond jewelry. An accompanying slogan declares: “You’re worth Mappins.” The advertisement is part of a provocative national billboard and magazine campaign by Mappins, a retail jewelry chain operated by Toronto-based Peoples Jewellers Ltd., to convince businesswomen to buy their own jewelry. Mappins has also reorganized a large portion of the women’s merchandise in its 83 stores across Canada into five so-called lifestyle collections—including “corporate” and “weekend” sections— to make it easier for working women to select gems and jewels for every occasion. Declared Morris Saffer, president of Saffer, Cravit and Freedman, the Toronto advertising agency that devised the marketing strategy: “This is the first jewelry campaign to talk to women directly. The ads treat women as the consumer power that they are, not as the playthings of men.”
Mappins’ strategy is the most visible and recent sign that a growing number of retailers and manufacturers have concluded that businesswomen now constitute a lucrative and expanding market. Indeed, statistics show that 52 per cent of Canadian women over 15 years of age work and about 920,000 of them are senior managers or professionals earning collectively more than $15 billion. As well, marketing surveys reveal that working women’s buying habits differ from those of women who do not work. But advertisers disagree about how to capture businesswomen’s interest without offending women who work at home or lower-paid working women. Said Marion Plunkett, research director for the Toronto-based advertising firm Ogilvy & Mather (Canada) Ltd.: “We do not think of producing commercials that portray women in upscale jobs. Women who stay home with their families should not be made to feel guilty or inadequate.”
The attempts to attract upper-income career women take numerous forms. For one thing, some automobile manufacturers have altered the interior design of cars to accommodate high heels and long fingernails. For another, many
financial institutions have begun offering special services for working women. At the same time, market research is beginning to identify the new market more specifically and to outline ways of addressing it effectively.
Last November, Thompson Lightstone & Co. Ltd., a Toronto marketing research firm, produced a survey of 1,500 Canadian women which determined several different profiles of female consumers. Sponsored by a dozen government agencies and companies, including the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC), Labatt Brewing Co. Ltd. and the department of consumer and
corporate affairs, the study claims to have identified five distinct profiles. The largest—“contented strivers”—are homemakers in their early 40s who are satisfied with being housewives. They are followed by “independent self-confident” women in their early 30s who are fashion conscious and tend to buy such trendy goods as imported mineral water. “Insecure” women, the thirdlargest group, lack ambition but also find home life unsatisfying, the survey indicated. “Traditionalists”—who include a high number of French-speaking women in Quebec—have the lowest level of educational achievement. The small-
est group is “career-oriented” women who are in their late 30s, are part of a two-income family, have children and work both for the money and a sense of achievement.
The Thompson study reinforced previous findings about the different shopping behavior of career women. They are the women most likely to take business trips, purchase cars and seek out tax shelters such as Registered Retirement Savings Plans. But some findings were unsuspected. For one thing, despite time pressures, women in higherpaying jobs are less likely to use frozen or canned goods than other groups. Said Philip Atrill, a research consultant involved in the study: “These women still like to feel they help make the cake on the table.”
Advertising executives at the CIBC say the Thompson Lightstone findings indicate that the bank’s first direct appeal to businesswomen is a sound one. For the past year the bank has run a magazine ad showing three well-dressed women in an elevator. It reads: “Today five million Canadian workers have something in common. They’re women.” The ad claims that the CIBC gives women equal access to credit and that it judges female loan applicants by the same standards as males. Said Michael Cox, senior manager of the bank’s commer-
cial markets: “Many businesswomen feel alienated and intimidated. We think they should get special attention now.”
Cox’s concerns are humanitarian —and profit-oriented. Women operate 30 to 40 per cent of independently owned businesses in Canada. According to Revenue Canada, women are becoming owner-managers at a rate three times that of men. For its part, the Commerce wants to increase its share of the loan market among these women. The bank is now holding seminars across the country to introduce businesswomen to bank executives and to explain business loan procedures. Deborah Weinstein, president of Strategic Objectives, a Toronto public relations company, for one, switched her firm’s business to the CIBC after attending one seminar. Said Weinstein: “I could not believe I was getting a chance to meet these vice-presidents.”
Still, other companies claim that it is more profitable not to direct ads specifically at women. Hotel marketers have discovered that to attract female business travellers they should not advertise to them at all. Commonwealth Holiday Inns of Canada Ltd.’s 44 hotels and Valhalla Inns’ three Ontario establishments have modified their rooms to include vanity mirrors, skirt hangers, blow dryers and other amenities, but
neither company advertises the fact. Said Harvey Copeman, director of advertising for Holiday Inns: “Female business travellers tell us they do not want to be treated differently than other business travellers.”
For other goods and services, career women appear willing to be treated as unique consumers. The Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. and General Motors of Canada Ltd. consult women’s panels to choose upholstery that will not tear nylons and to make other recommendations. And Morris Saffer, who devised the Mappins’ campaign, was also in-
volved in the decision by Firestone Canada Inc. to build waiting rooms in its tire centres. Said Saffer: “Women make up half of Firestone’s customers. They do not want to be around grease monkeys.” But many advertisers point out that the number of ads directed at homemakers and women with low incomes is not likely to change. Said Michael Williams, a marketing analyst with Torontobased management consultants Woods Gordon: “The majority of working women are semiskilled laborers, and many have ethnic backgrounds and very different buying habits from profession-
als.” Companies such as Bristol-Myers Products Canada, which makes Javex bleach and Fleecy fabric softener, maintain that they will not aim an ad specifically to career women. Most advertisements for household products still feature women in supermarkets, kitchens and bathrooms.
Other advertisers say that many of their colleagues who are creating ads for working women are engaging in mere tokenism. Said Gary Gray, creative director of Toronto’s Carder Gray Advertising: “Putting a briefcase in a woman’s hand does not necessarily reflect her change in status.” Added John Straiton, a Toronto advertiser who has just published a book called Of Women and Advertising". “Some advertisers even use women in a business setting to sell deodorants, pantyhose and feminine napkins.” And Keith McKerracher, president of the Institute of Canadian Advertising, says, “There is no evidence that ads directed toward career women are any more successful than ads that are stereotypical.”
Still, it is clear that many companies are trying new approaches because current ads are missing the mark. Indeed, the Thompson Lightstone survey discovered that 75 per cent of career women are dissatisfied with the way advertising portrays women. According to Alice Courtney, a professor of marketing at York University and coauthor of a book published last year called Sex Stereotyping in Advertising, recent studies by herself and others suggest that women from all backgrounds now prefer ads that show women working outside of the home. But, said Courtney, “The most effective ads for businesswomen are those that do not make a fuss about the fact that women work.” In one example, a Bank of Montreal commercial portraying a woman who uses her MasterCard to purchase a tire and a tow appeals to career women because it shows independence, says Suzanne Keeler of the Advertising Advisory Board.
Jewelry companies may turn out to be this year’s most flamboyant and active suitors for the career woman’s discretionary funds. South African-based diamond giant De Beers Consolidated Mines recently said that it will completely revamp its North American advertising to take working women into account. And Secrett, a prominent Toronto jewelry store, launched its first appeal to corporate women at Christmas with magazine ads telling women that “owning a piece of a rock is an altogether legitimate way to say you’re all business and then some.” Like so many other recent ads to businesswomen, the implicit message is that they deserve the best—and that they can afford it.cÿ
The story you want is part of the Maclean’s Archives. To access it, log in here or sign up for your free 30-day trial.
Experience anything and everything Maclean's has ever published — over 3,500 issues and 150,000 articles, images and advertisements — since 1905. Browse on your own, or explore our curated collections and timely recommendations.WATCH THIS VIDEO for highlights of everything the Maclean's Archives has to offer.