Gender wars: Women-focused ad agency featured on ‘The Pitch’

Controversy was the name of the game on last week’s episode of AMC’s new series The Pitch, which featured Womenkind, a women-focused ad agency with offices in Manhattan and Old Greenwich.

The show follows two top advertising agencies each week as they compete to win a new client. With only seven days to prepare their “pitch,” each agency is under intense pressure to perform at the highest level.

Last week’s competition featured the female-centered Womenkind against DIGO, a male-run firm, provoking plenty of online buzz since the show aired Sunday night after AMC’s highly watched Mad Men.

Womenkind has “a very strong, very clear mission to make marketing to women more respectful,” according Kristi Faulkner, president and co-founder of the company.

“So much of advertising is insulting and demeaning. We want to find clients that know that’s the case and also want to correct that,” she said.

Accordingly, Ms. Faulkner and her team chose to appear on The Pitch after learning about the client C. Wonder, a new women’s retailer that markets itself as “a shopping destination that transports women into a world of luxury and surprises.”

J. Christopher Burch, founder of the brand, sounded like a man who understood women, said Ms. Faulkner. However, she felt the show seemed to be staged from the beginning when it was “set up as a battle of the sexes,” which is inherently controversial, Ms. Faulkner explained.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of this gender war, said Ms. Faulkner, was the way the men at DIGO were portrayed on the show not only as businessmen, but as family men. Mark DiMassimo, DIGO’s CEO and chief creative officer, was shown both in the office and at home with his children. No one from Womenkind was filmed at home, when the reality is “we all have families,” said Ms. Faulkner, whose children attend school in Greenwich.

In fact, Womenkind opened its satellite office in Old Greenwich to allow for a better balance of work and family, said its public relations director Carolyn Samuel, a Riverside resident.

Nevertheless, after an unexpected visit by Mr. Burch to Womenkind’s Manhattan office, the agency felt confident that their multi-dimensional “Elements of Surprise” campaign had won over the client.

There were “lots of nods and smiles” during the meeting from Mr. Burch, who praised Womenkind’s work and questioned what he would find during his meeting with DIGO, according to Ms. Samuel. There was a strong implication that Womenkind “had it in the bag,” and that Mr. Burch would make his surprise visit to DIGO merely as a courtesy, she added.

Ultimately, that was not the case.

“It was a weird dichotomy when the client went to [DIGO] and started playing ping-pong” rather than focusing on what the agency had accomplished, she said.

When it finally came time to make their pitch, the team at Womenkind still felt secure in their advertising strategy for C. Wonder.

“We examined their business from every possible angle and we brought [Mr. Burch] a comprehensive campaign that said women are multidimensional, they have deep thoughts, feelings, and these are the many, many different places you can reach them,” Ms. Faulkner said. “We brought him a 360-degree campaign based on a platform, not a tagline, but a platform that C. Wonder is all about elements of surprise and that this target wants the delights and surprises in shopping because shopping has become an ordinary experience; shopping has changed for women.”

DIGO took a different approach. Using the tagline “A Great Mood Can Change the World,” the team created a television spot in which a woman is transported from her home into an Alice in Wonderland themed fairytale land, relaying the idea that C. Wonder could transform its consumers’ whole world with its products.

Despite Womenkind’s multifaceted campaign, Mr. Burch chose DIGO as the winner of the competition.

“I like the way they had one thought, one campaign,” he said.

The decision was shocking, said Ms. Faulkner, but not because Womenkind didn’t win the client. The natural response to a loss is “Wow the other agency must have done something phenomenal, because we really believed in our idea,” but that kind of reaction was not warranted in this case, she said.

“There was a litany of things that we brought to show how big [our] idea was and the breadth and the depth of it,” while DIGO only presented one TV spot, she said.

The spot itself was offensive to women, according to Ms. Samuel. Not only was it based on women’s stereotypical affinity for fairytales, but began by showing a woman in the laundry room.

“That itself is patronizing, like that’s what women do … but if only they could discover C. Wonder, their life would improve,” she explained.

“You just wonder what [Mr. Burch] really thinks of the women who shop in his store. Are they that one-dimensional?” Ms. Faulkner asked.

On the show, once the winner was revealed, Mr. Burch said DIGO came out on top because “we go with our instinct. We go with our gut.”

Womenkind was “phenomenal,” Mr. Burch said. “I actually think they got the customer very well. I just think they just did too much work,” he said.

The team at Womenkind, however, aren’t buying it.

It was the “boys club” mentality that seemed to win over Mr. Burch, Ms. Faulkner said.

“We got the sense that it might have just come down to the chemistry of camaraderie — that some guys just prefer to hang with guys.”

Regardless of the gender bias taking place in advertising, however, Womenkind has a “capitalists first, feminists second” mentality, Ms. Faulkner said.

“Women influence or control 85% of purchases in this country at all times,” she said. “If you understand how to market to the world’s most powerful consumer, you have a competitive edge.”

As for the future of women-focused agencies like Womenkind, “we’re optimistic,” Ms. Faulkner said. “We believe there are clients out there who will recognize our mission and will partner with us to achieve it.”

The team at Womenkind are “trying to change the world,” Ms. Faulkner said. Based on the company’s experience on The Pitch, however, “maybe we need to change it a little more than we realized,” she said.

 

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