Sue Unerman is Chief Strategy Officer at Mediacom, the biggest media agency in the UK.

Recently I was talking to Sue, but not about media.

She was telling me about her daughter.

Sylvia is a seriously clever girl.

She goes to the sixth form at UCS, which has always been for only the cleverest boys.

But they’ve recently started taking on girls in the sixth form.

Sue was telling me that she went along to a parents’ evening to decide which universities the students applied to.

Sue sat and listened as the headmaster began talking.

He told the students that most of them weren’t going to get into the universities they wanted.

They weren’t working hard enough.

They’d fail to get the A level grades they thought they deserved.

Complacency would be their biggest problem.

But it would be too late to regret it after the marks came in.

It wouldn’t do any good to cry about it once they’d left it too late.

So they had two choices.

Accept the fact they’d have to apply to lesser colleges than they wanted.

Or start working like they’ve never worked before.

And just hope they could avert the disaster that was waiting for them if they carried on the way they were.

Sue sat through the talk horrified.

She couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

This was scaring the life out of the girls and their mothers.

And then the penny dropped.

This was a boys’ school, and this was a pep talk for boys, not girls.

This was the sort of thing boys needed to hear.

Boys need a good kick up the arse.

Whereas girls need the exact opposite.

Girls need their confidence built up.

Girls need to be told that if they believe in themselves, they can achieve anything.

But boys are lazy.

If you told boys that, they’d think they didn’t need to do anything.

Given half a chance boys would waste time and play video games.

Left to their own devices boys wouldn’t work.

Whereas girls naturally wanted to work, they were conscientious.

But they were full of doubt and insecurity.

However, this was a boys’ school, they’d never had girls in the sixth form.

So they didn’t know this.

Neither did I.

It never occurred to me that boys needed different motivation from girls.

Just like it never occurred to me we needed different advertising for women than for men.

But Camilla Harrison, the COO of M&C Saatchi, told me about a talk she’d given on the different way ads need to talk to women.

At present, most advertising is done by, and consequently for, men.

So it’s loud and didactic, brash and obvious.

She said it excludes women, and women are responsible for 80% of purchasing decisions.

So that’s not smart.

Apparently, advertising aimed at women should be much more subtle, much less obvious.

In fact much more inclusive.

The recipient needs to be an active participant, not a passive one.

Ads for women need to hint at things, instead of spelling them out.

Apparently women like to work out what’s going on.

But currently, men are doing most of the advertising.

And men want to make sure the communication can’t be misunderstood.

Just like the headmaster at Sylvia Unerman’s school.


Communication designed by, and for, males.