Don’t Think Pink (in Reverse)

The Bic for Her reviews on Amazon show how hilariously bad "Think Pink" can be.

The Bic for Her reviews on Amazon show how hilariously bad “Think Pink” can be.

It doesn’t feel like very long ago that marketers were being admonished about their shallow perceptions of how to appeal to women. The assumption was that marketers, mostly being men, would make naïve and patronizing overtures to a female audience, epitomized by “pink think.” This is where you take the thing you made for a man and make it pink or in some other way pretty and dainty. (Not that this has stopped entirely. The “Bic for Her” phenomenon is a recent example.)

But now, the situation has reversed itself. Women dominate purchases in just about every category of product that there is. Heck, women buy 65% of tires. Tires! You’d have thought we’d have held on to that category, but you’d have thought wrong.

So it’s been a while since it was a fresh idea that marketers should pay attention to and respect women’s needs and wants as consumers. Basically, if you don’t, you’re kinda dead. In fact, we may have reached the point where some people need just the opposite message.

That’s what went through my mind when I read Patrick Healy’s interesting piece about the relative lack of men at Broadway shows. Healy says (though I don’t see a source) that in the last 34 years, the male portion of the Broadway audience has gone from 42 percent to 32 percent. Now, that’s a long time, but the trend is clear and robust: Broadway is drawing fewer men over lots of different shows and a long period of time.

Healy presents a lot of different potential explanations and theories, and they’re all worth considering.

Here’s another, maybe meta-theory: Reverse pink think. Broadway producers understand that women are their core audience and that they have no trouble appealing to gay men as well. Where they believe that they’re missing an opportunity is in reaching straight men in larger numbers. The reaction, therefore, is to program something that works for them, without alienating the core audience.

The result, often, is something that feels a little bit “Bic for Her.” Just because, for example, a play or a musical has a sports theme doesn’t mean it’s inherently appealing to this group. That’s condescending in the same way that “hey look, it’s pretty” is to women. In other words, it’s Reverse Pink Think.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s well-intentioned, but even “Bic for Her” might have been well-intentioned. Still, if you want the patronage of a different audience, you have to get busy understanding what they want and reaching them properly. I loved the examples Healy gave of marketing programs for Jersey Boys and Rock of Ages and their success in reaching men.

Jordan Roth once said not to waste your time trying to reach a young audience if you’re producing Music Man, just don’t do Music Man. Likewise, if you want to reach straight men and you’re selling Mamma Mia, maybe you should just stop trying to sell them Mamma Mia. (Of course, some straight guys love that show. Everything in this piece should be taken with the caveat that generalizations ignore many, many exceptions and variations.)

So if you want more straight men in your show, the answer’s the same as it is for those who have the opposite problem with women: Start with respect, move forward by understanding and finish with the hard work of making something the desired audience would actually like.

And by all means, don’t fall for either Pink Think or its twin sister, Reverse Pink Think.

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