Wising-up or dumbing-down?

femaledollar3

In 2011, insurance giant Suncorp began issuing a range of new insurance products designed specifically for women. These are marketed under the brand name “Million Dollar Woman“, a name that is cleverly evocative of the material aspirations of middle Australia. (Perhaps not so cleverly, and no doubt unintentionally, the name is also slightly reminiscent of the US-based conservative activist group “One Million Moms” – yes, the Christian fundies who are demanding that “open homosexual” Ellen DeGeneres be removed as spokesperson for a major retail brand. Oops!)

You might remember the launch of Million Dollar Woman (MDW) because News.com.au thought it would be a good idea to report this company’s new insurance products as news. By the way, if you’re someone who appreciates quality journalism and also enjoys a spot of self-torture, have someone read you the news item and then the PR press release from MDW. Close your eyes and try to guess which one came from the media outlet and which one came from the company selling its wares. You call me naive, I say you’ve lowered your expectations, let’s not split hairs!

I don’t want to talk about the actual insurance products offered by MDW, but rather the messages it communicates in its marketing. MDW’s slogan is “Financial Ideas for Women” and it’s got a bit of grrrl power goin’ on:

Million Dollar Woman is a company designed around the unique and specific financial needs of women. We’re here to help mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, and girlfriends embrace financial security and independence.

… We also want you to be well informed. That’s why we’ve developed an Resource Centre [sic] which is currently full of information about personal insurance.

But something else in the “About Us” section piqued my interest:

Yes, finance is a serious topic. But not so serious that we’re going to bombard you with all the associated jargon. We’ve made a real effort to write all of our material in plain language so it’s simple to understand and easy to digest.

Ok, let’s agree on some parameters before we consider this any further:

  • Is finance boring a lot of the time? Yes.
  • Does the language used in financial literature need a revamp? Hell yes.
  • Are women idiots? Sometimes, but no more often than men.

I understand why many companies now strive to use plain language in their marketing communications. I agree that it’s a good strategy (and long overdue). But what message does it send when a service explicitly targeted at women – and ostensibly designed for their “unique and specific financial needs” – makes a point of telling us ladies upfront that everything has been simplified so it’s easy for us to understand? I’ve tried really hard, but I just can’t bring myself to be ok with this. Am I overreacting?

I’m not really in this company’s target demographic. I also recognise the reality that women, as a broad group, often aren’t as comfortable talking about finance as men. But think about it this way: does the sentiment conveyed by MDW actually do anything to help that situation?

I don’t think this message encourages women to have confidence engaging in discussions about financial matters. All this does is maintain women’s distance from the mainstream (male) conversation. If anything, it only reinforces the perception that women can’t, shouldn’t or don’t want to talk about finances on the same terms as men.

To be fair, most of the website isn’t actually dumbed-down any more than other non-gender specific websites that use plain language… er, with the notable exception of the “resources” section, from which I learned such helpful tidbits of knowledge as October is the most popular month to get married and women spend 50% more time preparing the Christmas roast than men. As I read this, Jane Turner’s character from Kath & Kim appeared to me as a ghostly apparition and told me that by reading this “resources” section I would become really edumacated.

So apart from the “resources” section which makes me want to move to another planet, most of the information provided isn’t particularly patronising. But the symbolic message conveyed by MDW’s explicit plain language policy disappoints me. And symbols are powerful, often more powerful than substance.

I’m not offended by MDW, but simply dismayed that this is a lost opportunity to offer women something of real value. From a marketing perspective, MDW’s brand promise appears to include its desire for women to be “well informed”. Yet much of the information provided is limited to summaries of the features of MDW’s own insurance products and fluffy stories about weddings, shopping and those damn husbands being lazy bastards. When you consider this together with its plain language policy – which I find patronising in the context rather than empowering – one wonders what, if anything, this service does for women’s financial literacy.

What do you think? Is this just an example of lazy marketing that has nothing to do with gender? Or are women sometimes (and more often than men) sold short by the marketplace?

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12 responses to “Wising-up or dumbing-down?”

  1. subtlekate says :

    I think they mean well too, but it is patronizing and has a 1950′s Howardesque feel to the whole campaign. A “we’re helping the little women understand something that’s probably beyond them,” feel that makes me uncomfortable. Where were the women in the marketing meeting, I wonder?

  2. Peta-Jo says :

    I’ve been a journo since 2000 and always prided myself on not running straight press releases. I was pretty naive to think most of my colleagues were the same. When I started marketing my book and sent out my own press releases to newsrooms, I was appalled to see just how many used the press release word for word and STILL had their byline on it. *hanging head in shame*

    Another thing about journalism (and should be for any “resource centre”) is it’s our job to take sometimes complex issues and make it understandable to the wider public. And it should do so for ALL people. To point out you’ve done so is a moot point but to point out you’ve done so for a specific gender is sexist.

    Good post – I’m with Pat on your use of edumacated. Nice one!

    • Sheeple Liberator says :

      I like the way you put it. I was debating this with someone yesterday, who agreed with everything in this post except my opinion that the plain language policy is somewhat patronising. My argument is that the context is everything – it’s a site for women, the statement about everything being made “easy to understand” is on the same page as the statement about how the service has been designed for women’s needs and the resources section is, in my view, full of fluff that is hardly informative.

      I don’t know why I bother pointing out the crappy media reportage by News.com.au. It’s hardly surprising, I know :)

  3. Lynette Argent, CEO Million Dollar Woman says :

    I read with interest your blog post and opinions on Million Dollar Woman.

    While it certainly isn’t our intention to patronise women, you’ve raised valid points that some of our communications and website content may have (unintentionally) missed the mark. I’ve passed the feedback on to our marketing team to action.

    I look forward to reading more of your posts in the future.

    • Sheeple Liberator says :

      Hi Lynette,

      I appreciate you taking the time to comment on my post.

      I think Million Dollar Woman is a good idea. It’s encouraging to see that stay-at-home-mums are being recognised and valued and that there are companies who want to help women be more confident talking about their finances.

      I just feel that it would be good to offer women some direct information about finance matters – stuff that really improves their knowledge and confidence. To be honest, I don’t understand how news items about weddings and the fact that men do less housework than women helps women be more informed about insurance.

      One suggestion I have is a newsletter that women could subscribe to. Each week it could feature a new question about an area of finance with a “no jargon” explanation from a finance expert. Questions like “Tips for choosing a fixed or variable home loan rate”, “How do I claim lost superannuation from a previous job?” or “Tips for managing credit card debt” are examples of things that many average Australian women would probably like to read about. The newsletter could also feature lighter topics and information about your insurance products, but at least you’d be offering something valuable to your audience and getting them thinking about serious money matters.

      Thanks for stopping by.

      • Lynette Argent, CEO Million Dollar Woman says :

        Thank you for your response and sharing your ideas. We really like the newsletter idea and have already started planning towards it.

        The news articles you specifically mentioned are pitched towards media with the goal of increasing our brand awareness to our target audience across a broad range of financial and non-financial topics.

        But I do take your advice that we need to balance that with financial content that our audience will find more valuable.

        Thanks again for your comments and please feel free to share any new ideas – we’re taking it all on board.

  4. patokeeffe says :

    Great article. The language used in the promotion of MDW is so patronising! Outrageous!

    Great use of the term ‘edumacated’!

    • Sheeple Liberator says :

      Hi Patrick, I think they mean well but I agree it could be better executed. I think it’s possible to use plain language and simplify things while still imparting information that’s valuable and informative. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Martin Lack says :

    Sheeple, I have nominated you for a Versatile Blogger award, because “I just love what you’ve done with the place”. Therefore, if you choose to accept the Award (or you can just decline this light-hearted nonsense and delete this comment), there are a few things you are required to do:

    – Create a new post on your blog with the Award logo at the top/centre.
    – Thank the one who nominated you.
    – Nominate 12 to 15 other bloggers.
    – Share 7 random facts about yourself.
    – Inform each nominee.
    – Add a thumbnail of the Award logo to your Home Page (optional)

    Accordingly, after 03:02 hrs GMT on Wednesday 8 February 2012, you will be able to see what I said about you and/or your blog in my post in which you are nominated at…
    http://lackofenvironment.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/versa-bloga-warda-wina/

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