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What brands can learn from Stanley and the buying power of women

A woman shouts through a megaphone within the opening of a woman symbol.

Illustration by Holly Warfield / Getty / The Current

One of the larger brand success stories of the past year is no doubt the Stanley Quencher. The product — originally created 111 years ago for outdoorsmen and blue-collar workers who needed to keep their drinks hot or cold on the job — exploded in popularity over the past year, growing Stanley’s annual sales from an average of $70 million to a projected $750 million in 2023, according to CNBC. Even a lawsuit about lead in the base hasn’t stopped new limited-edition drops from being sold on resale sites for more than $50.

The reason behind the success? Women. Far more than an example of social media word of mouth, female advertising leaders call Stanley a lesson in the power of marketing to women, a demographic that even in 2024 continues to be underrepresented in advertising and not a major target for ads for many brands across sectors.

“Stanley was sitting there for years, thinking, as so many brands do: ‘Oh, you know, we will lead with and target men, and then the women will follow.’ And actually, it's completely the other way around. Lead with women, and the men will follow,” Cindy Gallop, former BBH USA chairman and president plus founder and CEO of video-sharing platform MakeLoveNotPorn, tells The Current.

Stanley saw that firsthand. Just as sales were dropping and production halted for the Quencher, Stanley marketers noticed some pull from a women-run product review blog called The Buy Guide. After partnering with the blog in 2019, the cup began its rise as the brand’s top-selling product.

When a TikTok video of a Stanley tumbler that appeared undamaged in a car fire went viral, it spurred even more of a frenzy. Then Target came out with a limited-edition pink and cherry-colored Valentine’s Day collection. What ensued could be described as chaos, with women nearly tackling each other to grab the product off shelves. On TikTok, videos related to “Stanley Tumbler” now have an aggregated 193.6 million views.

Gallop says brands are leaving a ton of money on the table by essentially cutting out what is oftentimes their main demographic, and she makes a strong point. In the U.S., women control a third of household financial assets ($10 trillion), and, are projected by 2030 to control much of the $30 trillion in financial assets that baby boomers will possess, in part due to women living longer than men, according to data from McKinsey in 2020. By 2028, Nielsen predicts that women will manage 75% of discretionary spend.

“[Women] are the sharers — we're the ambassadors, the advocates, the talkers, the chatterers so much so that again, over the years, I have readily advised brands that think they're targeting men to talk to women, because women will influence men more than men will influence other men,” Gallop says. “Women are the primary purchasers of everything, and the primary influence on the purchase of everything, including in many sectors that are thought to be male-led.”

There are a number of brands that have been called out for being overly male-centric. The NFL, for example, is routinely brought up as neglecting its female viewership, despite a new category of fans being pulled to the sport thanks to Taylor Swift. Gallop points to automakers as another major example.

“There is a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women seriously.”

Cindy Gallop; former BBH U.S. chairman, president, founder and CEO; MakeLoveNotPorn

Women are the primary purchasers of cars, accounting for 62% of all new car sales. They also make 85% of car-buying decisions, and 1.4 million more women than men hold driver’s licenses, according to research from Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, CBS News, Yale Law and PR Newswire. Yet most car ads — not to mention car designs — target men. A 2018 Autotrader study found that 77% of women and 58% of men out of 2,000 adults surveyed were “put off” by hypermasculine car ads. Think the 2015 "British villains" ad for Jaguar, which portrays the one woman in a passive state, or the Audi commercial in China that compared women to used cars.

Tracy Chapman, head of strategy at women-led ad agency Terri & Sandy, believes the gaming industry could also do a better job in marketing to women, as women make up a large portion of gamers around the world, and continues to see momentum in that area.

“Women often appreciate brands that authentically engage with them, resonate with their values and portray them accurately in marketing campaigns,” Chapman tells The Current. “In my experience, embracing women's perspectives in marketing holds no downside. Women tend to be attentive to details, and features that resonate with them often have broad appeal, extending to men as well.”

In 2019, the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media examined Cannes Lions ads from 2006 to 2019 and found that male characters appeared twice as often as women in ads, and were twice as likely to be shown working, while female characters were four times more likely to be shown in revealing clothing.

The industry is not giving up. Eight years ago, Madonna Badger, founder and CCO of Badger Agency, launched a campaign called "#WomenNotObjects," which aimed to change how women are portrayed in advertising. That campaign resulted in a significant revision of judging criteria for the Cannes Lions awards to prohibit work that objectifies women. Today, Badger says a number of brands are changing up the status quo and addressing women in more successful ways, such as Burger King, Gap and Cold Stone Creamery.

No matter the brand, many marketing experts agree that the main way to increase female representation in ads is to start by placing women in management roles at the top.

“We have to put more women in every equation of the equation,” says Shelley Zalis, founder and CEO of The Female Quotient, which aims to achieve gender equality in the workplace. “When we talk about advertising, we need to see ourselves so we want to go into these fields.”

Moreover, it’s smart business, says Gallop. “There is a huge amount of money to be made out of taking women seriously,” she adds.