The Buchanan Test – Are You Stereotyping Women In Your Ads?

Are you stereotyping women in your ads?  Can your ads pass The Buchanan Test? 

(The Buchanan Test was inspired by The Bechdel Test which deals with stereotyping of women in movies.)

Look at your most recent ads targeting women (or women and men if they are both your audience). 

Can you answer "yes" to the following three questions:

  1. Do you feature a woman outside of the home?
  2. Do you feature a woman in a role other than "mother"?
  3. Is she NOT doing yoga?

Ok.  How'd you do?   You'd be surprised how few commercials pass this test.  Like this one from Florastor.


 Why stereotyping women can be harmful to the success of your ads

  • We tune out stereotypes.  They have become so cliche that we barely even notice them.  One way to get your ad noticed is to show a woman in a non-stereotypical role.  
  • Being a "mom" is only one part of a mother's lifeWhen marketing to women, remember, moms are not JUST moms.  Also, many women are NOT moms.  If you have a woman in your commercial do not automatically show her in the role of mother.
  • You make an emotional connection with a woman when you show you respect her, understand her, and value all of her contributions, and roles in society.  Here's a sample of values that matter to women:  not having to rely on others, being a good friend, education/being smart, learning new things, personal responsibility, standing up for those who can't stand up for themselves, contributing to the community, being a leader and a role model.  Could your ad show women demonstrating these values?

Here's an example from Under Armor.  Show this to a woman and she will not be able to tear her eyes away from it.


Tom Wanek has a great write up of why this commercial is so powerful.

Tap into one of her core values – like responsibility.  Here's Liberty Mutual showing women in a variety of roles being responsible. (Yes there is a mom, but it's only one of several roles women play in the commercial). 

By the way – safety and security are HUGE for women.  Here's a commercial that fails The Buchanan Test on almost every level (except for the yoga part). 

You walk into your home with your young kid and find your home has been broken into and everything you hold dear is gone.  And the mom's only response is not "OMG – call the police!"  Or "Jimmy! (or whatever the boy's name is) Don't leave my side til we make sure they're gone"  NO.  her response is "Maybe it's time for a new computer."


Minivan commercials – mother of all stereotypes

It's almost impossible to find a minivan commercial that can pass The Buchanan Test.  This is a typical ad.

Yes, a lot of minivan drivers are moms.  Yes, carting kids around is a big part of their life.  But remember, there is an opportunity to show her in a role other than mom.  Where is the minivan commercial featuring a professional woman?  She is at her office and her team has a big presentation.  The huge poster board they've created won't fit into the sports cars of her male colleagues, but it fits just fine into her minivan – making her the hero of the day.

Also – why don't they promote all the cool technology to women and moms?  Here's an example of selling a minivan to a guy, but, minus the fireworks and panthers, promoting this sexy technology to moms could be a total win.


Portray women as role models rather than servers

If you must put her in the role of "mom," instead of showing her serving her family, show her being a role model.

 Here's a typical washer-dryer commercial from Samsung.


Imagine a different scenario. Let's call it "Mom's First Day on the Job." In this commercial the mom is teaching her kids how to do the laundry for themselves.   She's starting a new job and is asking the kids to step up to the plate and help with some of the chores.   When she comes home, the kids surprise her with a congratulations cake and when she peeks into the laundry room, she sees a pile of perfectly folded laundry. 

She responds, "I might just have to keep you guys." 

(the product benefit might be so easy to use even teenagers can figure out how to do laundry) 

Use The Buchanan Test to create more persuasive ads

While everyone else is stuck in stereotype land, use the opportunity to make your marketing to women efforts stand out.  Feature women in more varieties of roles. Feature them in situations outside of the home.  Featuring them doing exciting activities OTHER than yoga. 

While your competition is making ads that make women's eyes glaze over, Your ads will make them sit up and take notice.

P.S. one final reason not to stereotype women in your ads?  Women will mercilessly make fun of you.



This entry was posted in Marketing to women done well, Stereotypes of women in the media and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Buchanan Test – Are You Stereotyping Women In Your Ads?

  1. Chuck McKay says:

    Bravo, Holly. Good examples, great observations.
    This post is a complete “how to” lesson all by itself.

  2. Chris says:

    I recently had to hire a consultant to review how the marketing strategy I had implemented at my small manufacturing business addressed my female customers. Given that my entire management team is male, it provided a well-needed insight.

  3. Nathalie says:

    Awesome, I’m sharing! And you’re right, we will be merciless in our teasing (and sharing).

  4. No offense, but if there’s a facebook like button, it’ll be much easier for me to share.

  5. No offense, but if theres a facebook like button, itll be much easier for me to share.

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  7. Gamestudos says:

    It’s good see some down to earth language. Words like shit’ and fuck’ are purewfol words that send a distinct message of your disgust. Please continue to post in this manner it makes me feel normal I often tone down my posts and bloggs because I’m afraid to offend the little darlings I have a great capacity to offend people. But I say : If you don’t like the heat, don’t start a fire.

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  9. Bernis says:

    So, ANY time I speak to another woman, that’s gsoisp’? Interesting. Today my topics-of-choice during gsoisp time included mental illness, insomnia, use of the comma and the relative merits of dry toast and vegemite for an icky tummy. There was also a lengthy discussion about why I objected to a thoughtless comment that girls don’t play sport , directed to a bunch of children. I didn’t realise I was supposed to be talking about shopping, food, sex and other people And all up the whole gsoisp time took about 45 minutes. I’m going to lose my Girly Card for sure.I did love the caption on the awkwardly staged photo. Some women gsoisping yesterday. Okay then.

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