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“The paint it pink and it will sell” era has ended: How car brands are attracting women

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Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg famously said: “You can’t be what you can’t see – and how we market to women is critically important.” 

This statement was echoed by Sarah Todd, CEO of Geometry Global ahead of International Women’s day: “In the UK alone, women influence 80 percent of buying decisions and by 2025 are expected to own 60 percent of all personal wealth. Yet brands and even politicians [think pink minibus] can still get it wrong.”

Even when it comes to cars, the overwhelming statistics don’t change. It’s estimated that 60-80 percent of car buying decisions are made by women.

“The truth is, male and female decision-making is very different,” said Todd. “When it comes to shopping, men have very technical needs and want instant fulfilment. Need a pair of jeans? I’m off to Gap. Women want endorsement and confidence through conversation. They look at practical, aesthetic considerations and make lifestyle choices. Buying a sofa? Men shoppers look at functionality.”

Clever brands that sell well, know where to focus attention, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Arguably, the idea of marketing a car to women was tried in 1950 by the Dodge La Femme. It looked like a toy Barbie car! And it claimed to be the “first and only car designed for Your Majesty, the modern woman”.

The interior was pink and came hand-in-hand with a custom-made purse, which you could get your name engraved on. You also received a comb, lighter, cigarette case, lipstick case, coin purse, and a face-powder compact.

Better yet, hidden in a compartment on the back driver’s seat was a matching raincoat, rain bonnet and umbrella.

But despite all of its efforts, the Chrysler car is probably seen as one of the biggest flops in history.

Josée Paquet from Auto-Venus, suggested that it was only in 1898 that “some courageous women dared to leave the passenger seat and step behind the wheel. The first woman to get a driver’s licence was Marie Adrienne Anne Victurnienne Clémentine de Rochechouart de Mortemart, Duchess of Uzès. As a matter of fact, she also became the first woman to receive a speeding ticket… when she topped 15 km/h on a road with a limit of 12 km/h!

“The Duchess went on to create the first car club for women, which didn’t sit well in male circles. Back in the day, female car owners and club members took part in concours d’elegance, but since the vast majority of judges were men, these women were merely regarded as ‘added value.’ Outrageous, isn’t it? That was the sad reality in the early 20th century.”

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That was when the first chick car came into play.

“The truth is, the only other time a manufacturer used that much pink was when Mattel created the Barbie Corvette,” Paquet added.

This was but one of the reasons why Chrysler failed in the market. Essentially, there really is such a thing as going over the top, not to mention the fact that lack of advertising meant that almost no one knew about the car anyway.

“It’s great that an automaker cared about women, but if you ask me, it seems like Chrysler was treating them a bit like children,” Paquet said. “You know those toy make-up kits and fake jewels that little girls play with to feel like adult women? Well, there you go.

“Considering the lack of popularity of the Dodge La Femme, I’m thinking that many women back then must have felt this way. The car did have some character and could have enjoyed lots of success if Chrysler hadn’t given women the impression of driving around in a big rolling candy.

“I love pink just as much as I love purple and blue. I feel comfortable in jeans as much as I do in skirts. Yet, I will never drive a car that’s blatantly created to ‘please’ women. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one…”

Fast track to the 20th century, where we’d like to think automakers have since learned that women want a vehicle they can identify with, and there’s a way to feel feminine without overdosing on pink, Honda came up with “She’s”.

Heralded as “the ghost of 1955”, it only lasted two years.

Kat Callahan of Jalopnik wrote upon its reception: “It was identified the designer as Tomonari Eri, a female Honda executive. Much respect to Tomonari, making it to such a high position in many countries as a woman is difficult. In Japan? So much harder than many other places—even with anti-discrimination laws on the books. You have to respect the level of dedication and work (and sacrifice, probably in terms of family) she put into Honda Motors for her to have a chance at leading a design project.

“That’s all well and good. I don’t know what kind of pressure she was facing from her superiors to be the woman who ‘understands women’ and ‘designs women stuff.’ Unfortunately, whether under direct pressure, or simply because of the pressure to conform to Japan’s still rather stringent gender segregation, she apparently ignored a truth that Honda had already figured out about three decades ago: Women buy cars for the same reasons men do.” 

Read on to find out what the most modern strategies are so far…

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