Guest Blogger: Chris Bonney

You Talkin to Me?

We know that consumers aren’t all alike, that different consumers have different value to us, and that they have different interests and expectations.
Then why do so many marketers continue to speak to them in the same voice or the wrong voice?

Over the years I’ve reviewed or evaluated hundreds of advertising campaigns. Some have been exceptionally good. But a lot of them—at least half or more—fly completely past the non-verbal consciousness of the target audience, that recess of the brain where you want your name to be planted, because they don’t know enough about the target audience to know how to talk to and connect with them.

In the 1980s most hospitals settled on women as the primary target audience. Hospital ads that had once included a rainbow of faces, ages, genders and races began to be populated instead by scenes featuring clusters of “girlfriends” and hackneyed vignettes of knowing mothers counseling apprehensive daughters. The target audience got it. They recognized and even applauded that hospitals were finally recognizing their role as household healthcare gatekeepers.

For all the sister-girl-friendliness of these campaigns, a lot of these new ads didn’t work much better than the old ones. The basics were all there: pictures of women sharing life experience; lots of information; and recommendations for particular hospitals or programs. You’d have thought they had this problem licked.

But they didn’t. Most missed the mark because they: 1) treated woman as if they are all alike; 2) they just took their old campaigns, repainted them “pink,” and sent them back out again; and 3) they wrote copy for women that assumed that women were just men in dresses.

Here are a few thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Everyone resents being pandered to, especially when it comes to age and gender.
  • Women process information differently than men.
  • Women can tell when men are writing the copy. (Vocabulary and logic don’t ring true.)
  • Women’s lives are different today than they were twenty-five years ago.
  • Women’s lives are different at age 25 than they are at 35 or 45 or 55 or 65. If you want to communicate effectively to women, speak to the circumstances and emotions of life stage, not age.

Chris Bonney is president of Bonney & Company, a Virginia-based marketing research firm. He can be reached at 757-481-7030 or by e-mail at:

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