Image credit: Seat

At this point, it’s probably safe to say that labeling cars as being specifically for women is stupid.

Recent attempts to do so have fallen pretty flat. Seat and Lamborghini (both Volkswagen Group brands, curiously enough) are the two in most recent memory guilty of it. (Also complicit are Cosmopolitan and Bloomberg for encouraging it). It effectively alienates the other half of all buyers and it assumes that one group of people are indisputably monolithic in taste and what they’re looking for in a car.

In the Bloomberg interview, we learned that Lamborghini wanted its upcoming SUV, the Urus, to be more appealing to women, with the reason being that it will be comfortable and practical. Cosmopolitan designed a car with Spanish automaker Seat on the basis that ease of parking and driving are what women want.

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And you know what? They’re right. But they’re going about it wrong.

Why Alienate Most Of Your Buyers?

Women are now buying more than 50 percent of new cars and “influencing” 80 percent of vehicle purchase decisions. That’s according to a study conducted recently by Jumpstart Automotive Media. The study was conducted from December 2015 to March 2016. Online diaries, focus groups and one-on-one interviews in Houston, Texas and Sacramento, California provided the qualitative research, while quantifying data was gathered through national online surveys from 1,014 U.S. respondents. Here’s what they found:

  • Women, especially millennial women, are most willing to switch from a new car to a used car for practical needs.
  • Women place greater emphasis on purchase price and monthly payment.
  • Women place a greater value on comfort, seating and safety.
  • Women are high-info shoppers who are more likely to consult Consumer Reports.
  • Women tend to be more focused on gas mileage, warranty, rebates and discounts.
  • Women are primarily new-car purchasers.

This is not to say that men don’t look for any of these things. Plenty of men do. It’s just that women tend to do it more—in this study, anyway.

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I am not knocking automakers for making cars with features that women tend to gravitate to. Figuring out what the consumers want and then making a product that suits those needs is generally how it works. Wanting to market to women because they are now so influential when it comes to buying cars makes total sense.

What I am knocking, however, is how automakers choose to advertise it.

The Dodge La Femme, a famously egregious example of this. Image credit: Dodge via Oldcarbrochures.com

If, in the boardroom, far away from the prying eyes and ears of the public, the automaker decides to go all out on making a car for women—it has all the features that women want, there’s a spot for handbags, there’s a halo-light vanity mirror in the visor and it’s really easy to park—I say go ahead. I even daresay those are good features.

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But, when it’s time to advertise it and market it, please, for the love of god, don’t say this is a “car for women” or a “woman’s car.” Then the assumption becomes that all women want the same thing, and if a man finds the car appealing, then he has to go home with the label of buying the Chick Car. Newsflash: there are a lot of women in the world. Thinking that every single one wants the same thing is ridiculous.

The sexism is apparent in this kind of marketing, both to women and men. It assumes that women only want certain things that perhaps don’t have a place in marketing a “car for men.” And it works vice versa when a car is advertised as a man’s car. Is this to say that yes, definitely, women won’t like this car? That all men will love it instead? As people, our likes and dislikes cannot possibly be locked down into a mere handful of features.

How To Do It Right

The right way to market to women is to not market to women at all. It sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s true: for the most part, we don’t like to feel like we’re different from anybody else, we don’t like being treated differently from anybody else, especially in the automotive space, which has been notoriously male-driven and still kind of is.

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If the automaker only advertised the shit out of the features that women tend to gravitate toward—without saying that the car is explicitly for women—then it avoids making potential stereotyping faux pas like the Seat Mii by Cosmopolitan does.

From Jumpstart’s study, it’s safe to say that female buyers are more likely to value safety, comfort and seating. Female buyers are more practical. Now, say there’s a car that’s exceptionally safe, comfortable, seats a lot of people and is practical. Whatever Carmaker Ltd. doesn’t need to make a big stink about how it’s “female friendly” in order to attract female buyers.

Instead, highlight that the car has all of the features women are known to like without saying that it’s for women. Buy up advertising space in women’s magazines. TV spots during shows that have a majority of female viewers. Anywhere where you’d be able to attract a lot of female eyes.

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This way, you’re not insulting anyone by putting them in or excluding them from a preordained box.

It’s not the ‘50s and ‘60s anymore. Maybe the auto industry—especially as it’s increasingly led by women—will figure that out.