Mary Murcko
Mar 5, 2024

Want to reach women? Put your brand safety fears aside

To reach female consumers, marketers must take a hard look at what content they deem unsafe and what keywords, topics or products they avoid.

Mary Murcko, chief revenue officer, theSkimm.
Mary Murcko, chief revenue officer, theSkimm.

Amid a chaotic newscycle, an upcoming election and overlapping crises around reproductive rights, child care and paid family leave, it’s not surprising that marketers are struggling to get in front of female audiences in so-called “brand safe” environments. 

Throw in compounding fears over misinformation and the rise of AI, and brand safety concerns have advertisers overloading on keyword blocklists to avoid positioning themselves next to any remotely controversial topic. 

But those topics might be the very things that women are most interested in reading about. 

Women are looking for brands that feel authentic, align with the issues they care about and aren’t afraid to run alongside the topics that matter most to them. According to theSkimm’s State of Women study with The Harris Poll, 78% of millennial women say they want brands to “speak about current realities with honesty and candor” and 85% believe brands should actively make women’s lives better. 

But the traditional brand safety playbook has advertisers running away from tough topics instead of towards them. Talk about a missed opportunity.

While we understand the need for practicality, we challenge brands to rethink their approach to brand safety–and better position themselves to connect with key audiences in the process.

Women are the most powerful decision-makers in our economy, with more than 165 million American women alone representing well over $5 trillion in spending. After a year when Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and Barbie generated billions of dollars in economic activity by unapologetically appealing to women’s innermost struggles and desires, you’d think that marketers would follow their lead rather than tiptoe around the topics women care about. 

Female consumers are hugely influential, powerful and complex. To reach them, marketers must take a hard look at what content they deem unsafe and what keywords, topics or products they avoid. 

As a female-focused news publisher, theSkimm knows that the very topics brands deem “unsafe”—reproductive rights, the Dobbs ruling, the presidential election — are those that our readers care about most. Recent polling shows that the highest proportion of voters since 2015 cite abortion or women’s rights as a priority for the government — because those things directly impact her life, her family, her health and her bank account. Brands are intentionally avoiding appearing near issues that will become even stickier in an election year.

When it comes to wellness topics, many blocklists of the past included words like “period,” “menopause,” “breasts” and “sex.” Try gaining trust in the women’s health space without mentioning breasts or periods. And good luck reaching middle aged women while avoiding menopause. 

The old adage “sex sells” holds true for women, too — sex content tends to bring in the most eyeballs across publishers. When theSkimm works with sexual wellness advertisers and affiliates, the revenue and data send a clear message: women want this content and these recommendations. It is a goldmine of attention and marketers are actively avoiding it. 

And while many brands are still allergic to the topic of mental health, topics like seasonal affective disorder, anxiety and postpartum depression have gone mainstream. It’s no longer taboo to talk about these things — in fact, there are publishers and content creators driving hyper-engaged audiences by addressing these topics head-on. Meanwhile, 74% of millennial women say they are worried about the mental state of their female friends, and 82% say that everyone talks about how overburdened women are, but no one is actually helping them ease that burden. 

Brands can’t expect to align and build trust with these audiences while avoiding the subjects that make up their most intimate experiences. So what should they do? 

Unflinchingly show up — alongside factual, well-researched information designed to meet the consumer where she is. If we starve women-focused news brands of ad dollars due to brand safety concerns, those outlets will disappear — doing a massive disservice to audiences (read: potential customers) in need of information that addresses their most pressing concerns.

One way to reach women is to target everyone and hope for the best. But another is to specifically connect with women on outlets geared towards them, which have already captured their attention and trust. As the list of “safe” topics gets shorter and the pace of controversial topics accelerates, marketers must rethink brand safety — especially if they want to tap into women’s trillions of dollars in spending power.

Women do not have the luxury of staying away from the words, terms and topics that advertisers fear. So your brand has a choice: Either show that you understand and support them or let another brand win their trust. 

(Mary Murcko is chief revenue officer at theSkimm.)

Campaign US

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