I am fascinated by advertisements. I deconstruct the elements, looking to see through all the subtle and not-so-subtle visuals and copy exactly who the advertisement targets. (see my series on deconstructing old ads) I compare these visuals and copy with ads over the decades. It is instructive to see both the clumsy and subtle messages and attempts at audience manipulations. So when I see a particularly ham-fisted set of contemporary ads, I like to dig a little deeper.
Case in point, Hiscox Insurance.
Hiscox Insurance – Part of Your Essential Business Gear?
Hiscox runs ads in magazines such as Fast Company which targets readers interested in technology and design. These ad also appear in other media such as newspapers and billboards where the readership/viewership is broader. In theory, Hiscox is advertising a gender-neutral product, insurance, but their ads target very a specific gender: men.
The ads are pretty straightforward. An array of business gear laid out on a white background. The obvious message, Hiscox should be part of your essential business gear. When I first saw the Hiscox ads, I was amused at the images they selected – and then I was surprised and befuddled. Why? Because within all the general business gear in the ads – computers, cameras, pens, notebooks – there is clothing. But Hiscox only shows men’s clothing, men’s watches, men’s shoes. While I don’t expect Hiscox to include a pair of Jimmy Choo’s, I am surprised that someone in Hiscox’s marketing department didn’t whack themselves upside the head and say “wait a minute…where are the women in these ads?”
Where ARE the women?
I thought the first couple of ads I saw were aberrations – or that I would see a woman-centric ad next. After seeing the first ad, I purposely looked for other Hiscox ads, watching for the women. I kept thinking that there must be different versions of the ad that I just wasn’t seeing. I looked for the A/B test with a male/female bent. Viewing their ads, I can only assume that they are selling to upper-middle class and wealthy males, ages 30 – 50 who see themselves as road warriors. And maybe that is exactly who their market is. If so, bravo, Hiscox has hit many of the shorthand image references that speak to its audience.
I looked in other medias and found that this theme is carried across several ad campaigns. Evidently, Hiscox thinks only men are photographers, entrepreneurs, or consultants. Hipster male shoes and a fedora adorn the “As A Photographer” ad. Leather loafers and chunky men’s watch for the “Tailored for Consultants” ad.” Tailored for Entrepreneurs” features a men’s jacket, snarky t-shirt, and bright orange socks. Even the faces on the tablet and phone are male. I found one advertisement for health and beauty. Women-centric? Er, no. Weirdly, it is gender-neutral. A genderless sneaker sole, yoga mat, makeup and scissors. Tools of the trade for a heavily, but not exclusively, female business. Not a stiletto or lacy bra in sight – or men’s wear.
Targeting Through Images – or Not
I am still surprised by the blatant exclusion of women in the photographer, entrepreneur, and consultant ads. The trend in advertising is to tightly identify your market by demographic and then speak to them using uber-specific language and images. I am a consultant. Male or female, we all use laptops, and USB sticks, and smartphones, and all the other road-warrior-worthy gear. Men and women both carry briefcases and messenger bags. Want to keep the conversation simpler and more focussed on the message? Just skip the obvious gender references of men’s or women’s clothing and stick to the gender-neutral gear. Really, do they only sell insurance to that tight a demographic?
Inclusive at What Cost
Advertisers generally go to great pains to be inclusive to their entire market.Case in point: Cheerios ignited a social firestorm when they created a commercial featuring a multiracial family. Cheerios response: this is the face of America and these multiracial families are part of our customer base.
Cheerios seems to take the opposite approach to Hiscox. While staying within their traditional advertising campaign (families, love, heart-healthy, traditional, parents and children), they took the controversial step of portraying a multiracial family. While there were some haters online (and YouTube took the unusual step of removing all comments), the public generally rallied around Cheerios and they won far more fans.
So, is it wiser to cater to a small demographic and ignore a larger potential pool of customers (Hiscox) or be willing to stir up some controversy to reach a larger market (Cheerios)?
What do you think?