What women really want

LONDON - Tactics used by political parties to woo female voters are clumsy and outdated.

It is difficult to imagine Clementine Churchill poring over every minute detail of her outfit, or complaining on national television about Winston's unappealing habit of leaving his dirty socks on the floor.

Yet, this is what we have come to expect from today's 'first ladies', who are wheeled out in an attempt to connect with the female electorate and humanise their party-leader husbands.

Both main parties believe women are key to victory in this election. Labour is targeting the under-40 'Take A Break Woman', while the Tories are focusing on the 'Primarni Army' of affluent, educated, 30-something career women.

Trevor Hardy, founder of The Assembly, which handles the Lib Dems' ad account, characterises the campaign as 'presidential'. The parties' use of social media has led political commentators to dub this the 'Mumsnet Election'.

However, Nimi Raja, planner at digital agency Glue London, suggests that this social-media electioneering rings false. 'The political parties are creating these siloed communities,' she says. 'It's not about segregating men and women - it's about creating the big idea to galvanise voters regardless of gender.'

Gender-equality campaign group the Fawcett Society argues that the female demographics identified as key targets are overcategorised and poorly understood. Indeed, the parties' tactics are reminiscent of those once used by car marketers who believed that painting a model pink was the best way to sell it to 'women'.

Blunt instrument

The political arena has been slow to grasp an insight that is well understood by brands - that female-specific marketing is often a blunt and ineffective instrument. For example, Nintendo has successfully marketed games consoles to women by making their positioning more family-friendly, rather than relying on games specifically aimed at girls.

According to Tom Morton, executive planning director at ad agency TBWA, which used to work for Labour, the Conservatives have recognised this. 'The entire Tory approach has been one of feminising and humanising the party,' he says. However, he also thinks that the party's return to ad agency M&C Saatchi signals 'a return to the confrontational, argumentative style of politics' some believe alienates women voters.

The parties also seem to have missed the fact that UK women's love affair with fame is waning, and are still marketing their leaders as celebrities. The Tories fell foul of this when they were slated for using an airbrushed image of David Cameron in a poster campaign. Commentators also suggest that the party's attempts to position itself as the 'Innocent Drinks' of UK politics have fallen flat with media-savvy voters.

Morton cautions against blaming marketers for this failure. 'Like most marketing, the quality of the campaign comes down to the quality of the product, and if consumers aren't inspired by what's on offer, it's difficult to gain momentum,' he says.

While the imminent TV debates will give Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg the chance to spell out how their policies will affect women, it is unlikely to stop them turning to their wives in a misguided attempt to appeal to the female electorate.


80s - 'Mondeo Man'

Margaret Thatcher leaned on 'Mondeo Man' - working-class men who were previously Labour voters, owned their homes and had become increasingly conservative.

90s - 'Worcester Woman'

When Tony Blair brought Labour back into power after 17 years in the wilderness, young professional women from Middle England were seen as key swing voters.

90s - 'Soccer Moms'

The US presidential elections were fought and won by the legions of 'soccer moms' who dominated the political debate. The term, which first came into widespread use during the 1996 election campaign, refers to middle-class, suburban women focused on their families.

2010 - 'Primarni Army'

This year's most important swing voters are women in their 30s who have become disillusioned with the Labour Party. Affluent and educated, they shop around and have no brand or political loyalty.


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