I am woman, watch me spend

I was reading something wedding-related - of course, it's my new hobby - and came across an interesting quote. Of course now I cannot find it, but it was the editor of Bride magazine and he said in an interview that at no other time in her life is a woman as valuable to marketers than she is when she is planning her wedding.

Believe it or not, this column is not (entirely) going to be about weddings.

It has stuck with me for days, despite my inability to find the exact quote, because it doesn't make sense to me. Oh sure, I've noticed it. From the moment I wrote my name on some sheet identifying myself as "bride," I have been deluged with offers. They're in the mailbox and inbox, they are soooo friendly and happy to see me. The come-ons are constant. Photographers, videographers, florists, planners, hotels, restaurants, venues, caterers, dress shops, tea rooms, photo booth rentals, bakers, travel agents (yes, they still exist)... everyone wants the money we haven't saved yet.

I don't actually mind, to tell you the truth. Planning a wedding is a huge deal, and I want to find all the possible options. The ads save me hunting time. That's beside the point.

Sure, in the current depressed market, I get why they're glomping on to me. Weddings are a big deal. The industry projections show that 66,000 couples will marry in the next three years, spending a total of $2 billion-with-a-b dollars. That's just on the weddings, not the gifts and the rings and travel and other things that also hump a huge pile of cash into the economy.

It is expected that in New York state alone, the legalization of same-sex marriage will add $284 million a year into the economy and $27 million in state and local taxes. But those figures expect that the average wedding will cost $4,000. I'd like to know who they were interviewing, because the national average for a wedding is about $28,000 and the New York City average is $77,000, so chalk me up for NOT getting married in Noo Yawk.

(Note: We are not spending $28,000 either. Just in case anyone was wondering.)

It's a recession, so why are we still spending a fortune on getting hitched? Well, we're not. Again with the statistics I couldn't find because all the post-its fell out of my book, but the amount of money spent on a wedding as percentage of the average family income has actually declined in the last decade or two. But the magazine editor's comment stands: nearly everything in the wedding-industrial complex is geared toward women, knowing it is brides and mothers-in-law who will make 90 percent of the decisions and that at no other time will they be as willing to spend a fortune on colored napkins.

Seriously. One venue wants to charge a buck a napkin for blue instead of white.

But it doesn't make sense. I did find these statistics, from a TIME magazine look at the growing buying power of women and a number of industry articles:

• In 2009, 35 percent of women had a bachelor's degree or higher, compared with 27 percent of men.
• Women hold half the nonfarm jobs in the U.S. and own one-third of the companies.
• 35 percent of women make more money than their husbands.

So they have money... do they spend it? TIME says so:

• Women make 58 percent of online retail decisions.
• They make 80 percent of health care decisions.
• Women purchased 47 percent of the consumer electronics in 2007.
• For general household spending, women make the decisions 72 percent of the time.
• Oh, and they're 44 percent of NFL fans.

That last one really catches my eye because of the growling I experience every time I watch the Super Bowl. The ads are always directed at men, and it makes no sense. A few years ago, I dug up the statistics because the 2010 Super Bowl was the most viciously misogynist I had seen in many years (witness columns titled, "Pathetic Men and the Women Who Berate Them.") Here's what I found, for the CultureGeek column I wrote:

Women are nearly half the viewers of the Super Bowl. They are the deciders in 65 percent of new car purchases, 60 percent of the money spent on men's clothing and 75 percent feel the auto industry ignores them. And yet, that year we were treated to the image of a man held up for his car tires, and giving his wife over to the robbers instead. Funny.

That's from only three years ago. Then look at what MediaPost found this year:

• Women control $7 trillion in consumer and business spending annually.
• Their purchasing decisions are now up to 85 percent.
• Traditionally "male" consumer decisions such as automobiles, home improvement and consumer electronics are now decided by women more than 50 percent of the time.
• 75 percent of women are the primary shoppers for their homes (and no, that's not just groceries).
• 90 percent of mothers are online, 76 percent of women in general. And we talk: brands are 25 percent more likely to be mentioned by women than men online, for good or ill, and 92 percent pass along deal information to other women.
• 58 percent of women would toss the television set if required to give up an electronic device. Only 11 percent would ditch the laptop.

And 91 percent of women say advertisers don't understand them.

Why? Because advertisers are still trying to sell us dish soap and wedding rings. Watch any given car ad, and it'll be all about image, a smooth ride, the horsepower... you hear very little about gas mileage, reliability, cargo space and adaptability. And do I even need to bring up the insulting and sophomoric GoDaddy ads, which perversely cater to adolescent males as if they're the only ones that would ever need a web site hosting service?

If all this is just too feminist-ranty for you, consider this: I own an online retail business. When I started my business, hardly anyone marketed to me. No one offered me services, no one tried to gain my business for the printing, advertising and supplies I need. Anything I need for my business, I have to seek out. There's the occasional exception - after I became a regular customer at a retail supply company, they started sending me a catalog. And there was that one letter from an insurance guy, addressed to "Mr. Donald."

I signed up as a bride and I'm swamped with postcards. I'm doing something traditionally female, and all the marketing is geared toward me.

I can hear the counter-debate now: Madison Avenue and its associated marketing megafirms know their numbers. They must see numbers we don't see and they skew their ads and marketing toward men for the serious stuff and leave the weddings and cereal brands to the ladies. I mean, nobody misses a buck on Madison Avenue. Their one and only True Belief is in the almighty dollar. Wherever there is a target demographic to exploit, they'll find it.

But I'm beginning to believe Madison Avenue stopped paying attention to the changing nature of this society around the time of Mad Men. We left the white gloves in the drawer, gentlemen. Might it be that you notice, sometime before the next Super Bowl?


  1. You remember that movie "What Women Want" with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt - yeah, THEY had the right idea - unfortunately most of the advertising firms out there havn't gotten that message yet. But even that isn't a fair observation - it's really the CEO's of the companies using these advertising firms - THEY havn't gotten it yet.

    I work for one of those companies - it's a 'good ole boy club' around here. We have ONE female VP - ONE! And I think she is just a figure head to them - "Look, we have one female exec - see we are up with th times." Yeah right guys - get a clue!

  2. I also tend to wonder about the economy and how that has affected how businesses market to other businesses... Because way back in the 90's when a friend registered his own business, he started getting all sorts of promotional packages from businesses that cater to business clientele - like sample imprinted pens, samples of coffee, personalized post-it notes, and even one place that sent him an embroidered fleece jacket...
    I registered my business almost 3 years ago, and wondered if we would be showered with similar promotional gifts... nope... nada... zilch... not even postcards advertising services...
    I really doubt it's a gender or type-of-business thing... I think it's just that it is no longer economical to advertise in that way.


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