Wising-up or dumbing-down?
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?