Historic Female Marketers

Rebekah May 3 min read

In honor of Women’s History Month this March, I am profiling women who have made a difference to the marketing industry. You can follow along on IG by following me @bekah.may, or read all about the unique contributions these women made here:

What these women taught us about marketing

We, as an industry, learned a lot from these copywriting and advertising pioneers that are still applicable today, even in our digital advertising world. These women brought a creative and unique insight into reaching your audience that their male counterparts didn’t think of at the time.

These women taught us some key marketing truths:

  • Market the benefit, not the product
  • The concept of social proof when selling items
  • Empowering women can lead to great scalability

Who are these historical female marketers?

Mary Kay Ash was one of the first women to bring network marketing (and multi-level marketing) to mainstream with the launch of her world-famous cosmetics firm, Mary Kay Cosmetics, in 1963. She embraced the marketing principle “know your audience” and had a deep understanding of American housewives at the time. She used this knowledge to tap into an underutilized workforce: the housewives who were sick of being a stay at home moms and struggled between being a mother and bringing in money without the traditional 9-to-5 job. She incentivized this workforce to spread the word of her business by awarding top sellers with lavish gifts such as pink Cadillacs, transforming them into mobile advertisements for the company’s products.

Mary Gerety, a copywriter during the Great Depression is known for kickstarting the sales of diamonds post-depression when people were still concerned about money and afraid to spend on high-ticket items. Mary Frances Gerety came up with the timeless tagline we still here today: “A diamond is forever”. It is said she came up with this in the middle of the night. The slogan has since been used in every De Beers ad and in 1999 was named the slogan of the 20th century by Advertising Age. Today, more than 80% of women in the U.S. receive diamond rings when they get engaged.

In 1965, Hearst needed some fresh insights and wanted to reach a wider audience for their magazine, Cosmopolitan. To help with this they hired Helen Gurley Brown to take over and bring in new life. Helen made large changes to the magazine and started focusing on driving awareness and sales through sensational headlines, which earned millions of devoted readers This also is credited for kickstarting the sexual revolution in the process. Love it or hate it, today you can still get plenty of tips on writing great headlines right from the magazine racks.

The co-founder of Estée Lauder Companies, Lauder was the only woman on Time magazine’s 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century. Lauder immediately recognized the value of social proof in marketing. To obtain this, she provided all her famous friends and acquaintances small samples of her products to carry in their purses; she wanted her brand in the hands of people who were known for having the best. When others saw famous people using the products, they too needed the brand.

In 1911, Helen Lansdowne changed the face of advertising forever by being the first to harness sex appeal in an ad. Her Woodbury soap “Skin You Love to Touch” campaign focused not on the product but its effects—“the attention of dashing young gentlemen.” Then as now, a hint of the sensual both scandalized and worked—the campaign increased Woodbury sales by 1,000 percent. .

Rebekah May

Instructor and course creator for UC Davis SEO Certification program. Industry speaker, author and mentor to SEOs. SEO veteran of over 10 years with experience freelance, in-house and directing a team at a marketing agency where I worked with fortune 500 clients around the world.

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    Rebekah is the creator and instructor of UC Davis' SEO certification program. Read More

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