"Is the lady of the house available? We've got a brand-new product just for her." This isn't a door-to-door salesman out of the 1950s talking. Major consumer-products companies are now the ones trying to get their foot in the door with women. In 2001, 3.6% of all new products were specifically tailored to women. That number has more than doubled to 7.9% in the first half of 2005 alone, according to Datamonitor's Productscan Online new-product database.
What's driving this increase isn't more "women's products"—makeup or sports bras, say. It's wine, chocolate, laptops, and cell phones, things that until recently were gender neutral. Successfully launching a new product is hard; tens of thousands fail each year. It doesn't get any easier when manufacturers' worst instincts about women get in the way.
The problem starts with pink. Samsung, for example, released its SGH-E530 mobile phone in Europe earlier this year, available only in "lavender pink." Can it come as any surprise that its "woman friendly" features include a calorie counter, fragrance coordinator, and menstrual-cycle calendar?
Even if there is more to offer, leading with the most "girly" color is a handicap. A new magazine about women in business, Pink, launched earlier this year. In its second issue, one letter writer commented, "The content looks good, your intro letter references intelligent, professional, influential women making important decisions . . . and then you call the magazine PINK? It's bringing back a stereotype that we finally got rid of." Replies founding editor Cynthia Good on the magazine's Web site: "Why PINK? Why not! What if we could flip the word "pink" on its ear to give it and us a metamorphosis?" By contrast, when Gillette developed its Venus line of women's razors, it focused on molding the razor to shave a woman's ankle, knee, and underarm and offered it only in turquoise. "We really wanted something that women wouldn't think was offensive," says Michele Szynal, Gillette's director of global communications. After Venus proved its utility, Gillette then rolled out a pink one.
Marketing sheen, in other words, is a lot less meaningful than product attributes that appeal to a modern woman. Consider two new wines for women. Foster's Wine Estate's White Lie Early Season Chardonnay, which launched late last spring, plays up its lower calories and lighter alcohol content. On the other hand, Seduction wine, which launched in February, relies on sex appeal. Its alluring burgundy packaging uses words such as "sensual" and "romance." "Because there's no tangible reason for Seduction to be woman-oriented," says Marti Barletta, author of Marketing to Women (Dearborn, 2005), "true wine lovers are going to be offended by the effort." Seduction stereotypes what women want from alcohol; White Lie delivers what women are asking for from a wine.
You say it's obvious that a new product must have a raison d'être as opposed to just a marketing hook if it's going to have a chance at success? Maybe so. But given how often companies targeting women forget that notion, perhaps it's a lesson that should be engraved in stone for every executive. As long as it's not pink marble.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2005 issue of Fast Company magazine.