How To Market To Women On A Budget

You know those Glade ads, where women buy the cheap candles and plug-ins and pretend they're expensive, then have their dishonesty exposed and mocked? Well, I thought of that while reading this piece on AdAge about how to market to women during the recession. Because apparently someone thinks the way to do it is by encouraging gratuitous deception! Thank you, Glade!

There are a few variations on this campaign. In one, a woman lights a Glade candle in the bath. When a friend calls, she tells her she's at the spa. In the next iteration, a woman lights a Glade candle, then tells her friends it's some expensive scent "from France." "You mean you've never heard of Glah-day?!" shouts her friend, triumphantly, as she rips the giveaway Glade label off the liar's back. Then there's the "yoga" ad, where the deceitful woman explains the fresh smell as something she uses to "plug into her karma." "DON'T YOU MEAN GLADE PLUG-INS?" crows her friend upon espying the telltale dispenser.

It's an innocuous — if annoying — campaign, and I get the logic behind it: in strapped times, people want nice things for cheap, and Glade wants to take its image upmarket. But there's something weird about the psychology of 'deceit ads' - pretending frozen pizzas have been delivered; that Sara Lee tortes are from fancy bakeries; that Pillsbury pastries are made from scratch; that canned broth is "a family secret." Some of it seems like a holdover from a time when convenience products were stigmatized, but the odd culture of 'women lying to their friends' — and it's always women — is somewhat unsettling to the overthinker, as if always implicit is the notion of female competition — and based on products, no less.

Of course, the commercials universe is a grotesque one in which husbands are invariably buffoons, people get strangely excited about fast food, and children speak exclusively in sassy one-liners. The odd deceit culture is of a piece with this; but the fact that these approaches have, one assumes, been strenuously market-and focus-tested and somehow found to appeal to women is bizarre. According to Marti Berletta, female shoppers are eminently practical: the marketer is advised that women prize "price over value," "thrift over convenience," "sustainables over disposables" and "essentials over indulgences." Nowhere does she mention status-conscious deceit, and indeed, lately there seems to be a palpable pride in bargain-hunting at work which is at odds with this.

That said, for all my bafflement and manufactured outrage, I was moved to sniff a Glade candle at the supermarket the other day: annoying or not, the ads had obviously made an impression - so had they worked? The candle smelled exactly like one of those blue-water scent things in a particularly grimy restaurant toilet. And at the end of the day, you can only deceive us so much.

Related: How To Market To Women During The Economic Upheaval [AdAge]