Jessica Alba Windows PhoneIn light of BlackBerry’s recent decision to focus its advertising efforts on women, let’s take a look at how three tech giants (BlackBerry, Apple, and Microsoft) are targeting the female demographic. I’ll report on what these three companies are doing, and see how their ads stand up to my previous tips on advertising towards women.


What they’re doing: Last week, at the launch of two new devices running on the BlackBerry 10 OS, CEO Thorstein Heins announced that one of the major demographics that BlackBerry would be focusing its marketing attention on is women, and working moms in particular. The first step to this end seems to be hiring Alicia Keys as BlackBerry’s “global creative director,” giving the company something of a public female face. However, new ads featuring women or designed to appeal for women are still in the works, and BlackBerry’s Super Bowl ad featured a male protagonist, in spite of the announced goal.

How they’re doing: It will be hard to really say how BlackBerry is doing on the women-focused marketing front until they release specifically targeted ads. So far, though, I’d give them a thumbs up, based on comments from marketing director Frank Boulben and the reasoning behind partnering with Keys. In the Mashable article I linked to above, Boulben defined the target audience as people who “want a tool more than a toy,” who are “people of action, achievers, [and] multi-taskers,” and who are likely to be small business owners.

These traits are not usually associated with women in advertising, if at all, so ads that showcase women as being successfully involved in business and reaching career goals are quite likely to offer a refreshing view, in contrast to more traditional “pinkification.” But, depending on the choices made by BlackBerry’s marketing department, this potential could quickly disintegrate.


What they’re doing: At the end of last year, Microsoft unveiled two thirty-second video ads (check them out here) to pitch the new Windows Phone 8 OS and Nokia Lumia 920, featuring celebrities Jessica Alba and Gwen Stefani. The ads were part of a series that included appearances from various celebrities in support of the new smartphone, but these two in particular seemed to have women in mind as a target audience through the use of female celebrities and their content. Jessica Alba’s spot focuses on her use of the phone and OS as a busy mom, and Gwen Stefani’s showcases her technology usage as a traveling musician.

How they’re doing: I’m personally not sold on Microsoft’s women-focused effort, but it’s definitely not as bad as it could be. On one hand, they successfully portray two high-profile, working women who have achieved considerable fame and status in their respective fields. The Jessica Alba ad, in particular, manages to capture her success as an actress while also showing how the technology helps her balance her many roles as a mom with her many roles on screen. The ads focus on utility, which is one of the key aspects of marketing to women that I highlighted in my previous articles.

The downside is in the details. Both ads fall prey to pinkification in the end, with final screens showing the Windows Phone logo on a pink or purple background to emphasize the fact that they’re targeting women. And while the Jessica Alba ad hits the mark in terms of utility, my critic’s eye is a little bit disturbed by the fact that the ad ultimately portrays mom duties as more important than career ones, giving credence to the idea that women have to “pick one” and should favor family over work. But again, in comparison to a number of other woman-focused ads, Microsoft’s are not nearly as offensive as they could be.


What they’re doing: Apple launched the iPad mini last November, in part to get in on the e-reader market and hopefully appeal to women with the smaller size. So far, video iPad mini ads have largely focused on a size comparison between the mini and the full-sized iPad, and print ads on the back of magazines have shown a real-size example of what reading that particular print source would be like on an iPad mini. For the most part, these ads have been launched in magazines directed towards women (Women’s Health, Marie Claire, and the rest of Conde Nast’s line of women’s magazines) and during TV slots that tend to be watched by female audiences (NBC’s “Today Show”).

How they’re doing: I love where Apple is going with their women-focused advertising. Why? It’s not explicitly about women! They’re showcasing the utility and size of the iPad mini, which might appeal to women, but they’re allowing women to make that decision themselves. It doesn’t say, “your tiny lady hands can’t handle a full-size iPad;” it just says “here, we’ve got a smaller option,” and happens to do so via media avenues where women are likely to see the ads. Apple’s strategy totally avoids the major pitfalls of advertising towards women while still managing to get the message about their product out to a female audience.

All in all, these ads give me hope for the future of women-targeted advertising – at least in the tech industry. If BlackBerry can deliver on its promise to show business-oriented women using their products in ads, each of these three companies will have managed to craft an ad campaign that relies on a message of utility rather than selling a product through a color scheme or a stereotype. I’d say that’s a welcome shift if ever I’ve seen one!

Is your business currently targeting ads towards women? Are your techniques similar to these tech companies’, or are you doing something else?