Still Miss Understood:
She’s Not Buying Your Ads
Cheryl Berman, Denise Fedewa, and Jeanie
The International Advertising Festival at Cannes recognizes and
celebrates creative achievements in advertising, much as the Cannes
Film Festival honors artistic excellence in film. In 2004, global
advertising agency Leo Burnett Worldwide presented a seminar
titled, "Miss Understood: She's Not Buying Your Ads," at Cannes to
a standing-room only crowd. The presentation examined why
advertising cannot quite seem to engage women consumers with the
same level of breakthrough work that is more frequently directed at
men, and challenged the industry to raise the creative bar across
female-targeted categories largely associated with cliché-ridden,
uninspiring, and even offensive work. Two years later, "Miss
Understood" is still being delivered around the world by Leo
Burnett in the hopes that its message will serve as a catalyst for
The montage you just saw was constructed almost entirely of
contemporary images culled from TV ads from around the world. As
you’ve just seen, when it comes to advertising to women, there is
much room for improvement.
As you may know, Leo Burnett conducted a study back in 2004
titled, “Miss Understood: She’s Not Buying Your Ads.” We explored
women’s feelings towards advertising and sought to recommend ways
the advertising industry could improve its dialogue with women.
When I was asked today, I saw this as an opportunity to take a
fresh look at some of the advertising running in North America. I
was hoping to find an improvement in the quality of advertising
geared towards women and evidence of progress. Unfortunately, I
found myself disappointed, as that was two years ago. So I stand
before you, more convinced than ever that advertising is missing
its mark with women. I am delighted to be with you here today to
present our case.
If we look at the gender makeup of most major ad agencies today,
it’s encouraging to note that half the people working in them are
women. However, when looking at the work produced by these same
agencies, it’s discouraging to see that the creative standards of
much of it directed at women doesn’t reflect their importance as
So it’s of no surprise that women are simply not buying the
messages we have to sell.
That’s why we feel it’s essential to examine how advertising
talks to women, and to offer some simple and above all constructive
advice on how to develop better strategies and ads that target
Male-targeted ad montage (images only).
What we’re not focusing on in this presentation, but
what deserves mention here, are the categories of ads that
objectify, debase and demoralize women—namely, the beer, babe and
bimbo male-targeted ads that offend women around the world.
Instead, our focus is on advertising for everyday brands that
are traditionally sold to women—often via a largely uninspired, out
of touch and often unintentionally offensive body of work.
In order to get a better read on women’s feelings about how
brands talk to them—or with them, as the increasingly
interactive nature of our work now demands—we did a considerable
amount of work on our own. We conducted informal focus
groups—girlfriend groups, as we called them—in Leo Burnett offices
around the world, including Mexico, India, Brazil, Japan, the U.S.,
the U.K. and China.
Girlfriend groups (images only).
In each of these, we pulled together groups of female friends,
in age groups ranging from teens to women in their 40s, to get a
sense of how they feel about the advertising that’s directed at
In looking at this issue, we not only asked women what they
thought, we also reviewed published data from another dozen
countries, talked to journalists and creatives from other agencies,
and of course tapped into our own global network. Where available,
we looked at data on women’s favorite TV programs, the ads they
like the most, and the ones they loathe.
One of the things we found most interesting about advertising
festivals was that it takes judges nine hours to...