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Three New Rules of Advertising to Women

The balance of power is tilting: thanks to fewer layoffs in female-dominated job categories, women are now just about half of the U.S. workforce. They're still controlling 73% of consumer spending. And -- sorry, Martha -- they're fine with imperfection.

These changes may sound small, but they are a big reorientation for marketers and advertisers. I spoke recently with Ann Mack, director of Trendspotting for advertising agency JWT, about how the rising economic power of women is resetting the parameters for selling to them. Here are her top three observations:

1. You can reach women at work. How often do you take a little refresher at the website of a favorite television show or store? The other day, I played around at the AMC website for "Mad Men" and updated my Facebook page with a Betty's-older-sister profile picture. That was a perfect opportunity for one of Mad Men's sponsors to reach me -- during the day, not in my supposed leisure time. Hmm, what would I have been open to in that moment? An easy, retro recipe that my husband and I could have for dinner to get us in the "Mad Men" mood comes to mind. If some smart company had served that up to me, I would have texted my husband the ingredients for the shopping list.

That's exactly the kind of small value-add that ingratiates brands with women, says Mack. It's the small things that make everyday life a little easier -- and maybe even a little fun. And reaching women at work adds a little frisson of personal time to a typically stressed and jam-packed day. Mack is a fan of "flash sales" -- discounts available for the next 36 hours -- that arrive via e-mail. Of course, that means you can flash-shop from the office, the train, the airport or at a red light.

2. Every mother is a working mother -- for real this time. Remember that tired "feud" between career moms and stay-at-home moms that the media reported on with metronomic regularity from about 1985 to 2005? I haven't heard about it recently. That's because nearly every mom works these days, in some form. That means that work-life "balance" has become more of a work-life blur, says Mack.

What does that mean for still-powerful icons like the family dinner table? For one major packaged-food marketer, it means using images that tug the heartstrings, like family members coming in from out of the cold to dinner served in a golden glow. The "how" of getting a meal on the table is less important than the "why." Watch for evolving icons of home and caring, with a "good enough" attitude about the details and an immersion in evocative images.

3. Time efficiency is a prime driver. If your product can save time, prove it. If you can prove it, it will sell. That tactic is working for Frigidaire, says Mack, which guarantees that its appliances can save a mom at least eight hours a month. "Demonstrate how the brand can simplify her life even if you can't reflect her exact reality in each moment," Mack says. Moms -- and the latest generation of dads -- are about the people, not perfection.