August 06, 2008

Soccer Mom? A Misunderstood Moniker

Holly Buchanan and Michelle Miller are co-authors of The Soccer Mom Myth. Their book is available at Amazon and, locally, at Canio’s in Sag Harbor. (click for larger version)
It's a creature that drives a minivan and spends most of its time making snacks and ferrying around kids to various sports events.

But does the so-called "soccer mom" really even exist?

"Whenever I do surveys, only about one to five percent of women label themselves 'soccer moms,'" noted Holly Buchanan, who, along with Michele Miller, penned the new book, The Soccer Mom Myth. "The problem is, it's a negative stereotype."

According to Buchanan and Miller, corporate America has it all wrong when it comes to marketing goods and commodities to women. The authors' new book aims to bust open the "soccer mom" label and, instead, reveal "that not all women think the same way, have the same needs and motivations and preferences."

The Soccer Mom Myth contains real world examples to show readers what does and doesn't work when selling to women.

"The big difference between this book and other 'marketing to women' books is, we don't assume that you can speak to all women the same way," explained Miller.

Of course, there is no doubt that women process advertising messages differently than men, say the book's authors. "We've found, in our research, that women often have more questions when buying products and services," explained Buchanan. "There are biological and cultural reasons for this. It depends on the product, but for men, if a product meets their top three criteria, it's good enough. For women, they have a longer list of what they want/need. It has to really be right, not just 'good enough.'"

She cited a few examples of what she considers annoying male-centered advertising.

"Take a look at car commercials. They usually feature a car zooming around corners, or a truck plowing through mud and over rocks. It's all very in-your-face 'guy communication style.' A female friend recently remarked to me about a Mercedes summer sales event campaign where, in all the commercials she saw, the husband did the driving. The wife was simply a passive passenger. 'What, women don't drive Mercedes?,' was her response. Another friend commented that Kia ran an ad promoting how the car came in all sorts of colors, so that she could 'match it to every outfit.' She thought it was so stupid she vowed on the spot never to buy a Kia again."

Some companies, though, manage to get it right.

"I was pleasantly surprised to see Logitech produce a TV commercial promoting its video-calling product that featured a woman business traveler calling home to talk to her husband and kids," said Buchanan. "You could have knocked me over with a sledgehammer! Here a company finally realized that almost half of the business travelers in this country are women. Yet how often do you see that portrayed in ads that seem to focus almost exclusively on the male business traveler?"

Buchanan, who comes from an Internet marketing background, teamed up with Miller about five years ago and "combined forces" to do research together and write The Soccer Mom Myth. Personally, they also enjoy a close friendship. "[Michele] is just one fun whackadoodle," she laughed. "We have a great time together."

Their research also revealed that "Boomers" – women born between 1946 and the early 1960s – are a powerful buying force. "Seriously," said Buchanan, "almost no one is marketing to them. They have more money, more time, and are more active than almost any other demographic. While everyone chases after young men, they're ignoring Boomer women who have way more money and buy way more stuff."

The fact is that women in their 30s and 40s have a lot of power in the marketplace. But, says Buchanan, the "soccer mom" label needs to go away. For good. "It's useless and it doesn't really describe anyone in any real terms. Are there mothers who focus on their kids' lives? Yes. Are their mothers who drive SUVs and minivans? Yes. Are there mothers who live in the suburbs? Yes. But advertisers should try to dig deeper in order to truly understand this hugely diverse group of women."


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