Ad Agency Targets Female Buying Power


Don't be surprised if direct mail ads for the 1999 Hyundai Sonata have a woman behind the wheel.

And even if a woman is not behind the wheel, it's almost a certainty that a woman will be behind the ads themselves.

Wiley & Associates, a Westlake Village advertising firm that employs only one man along with 22 women, has been hired to handle the direct mail campaign for the new car models. Hyundai joins a list of Wiley clients that includes LA Gear, Sizzler and ABBA products.

Although the businesses vary considerably, the job for Wiley & Associates is similar--to attract female buyers.

"What Hyundai is looking for us to do is speak with our voice in a way that is compelling to the target buyers," said company President Caryn Wiley.

"Everyone has shared stories about how women were treated as second class in making auto purchases, and there was a lot of resentment in the female populace," she said. "But research shows that we have the clout, we have the cash to make that purchase decision--we are not dependent on our boyfriend or husband. And that carries through to many other industries. It's the nature of families, that a lot of purchasing decisions are made by women."

Wiley started her firm in 1985, concentrating on catalog and design work for retail operations. After several years, Wiley and her associates assessed what they had learned about female shoppers, concluded that they were underrepresented in the marketing world and decided to make women their main focus.

"We determined that we needed to go out and let people know about us, what we could bring to the table in terms of the women's perspective, and that was something people were intrigued by," Wiley said. "We are pretty unique. There are some large agencies that have a little division that specializes in women--we're treated very much like a little niche, when statistics show that women are the majority in the decision-making."

In addition to Hyundai, Wiley & Associates is cranking up a new campaign for LA Gear. In October, the ad firm will begin conducting focus groups with women across the country, to determine how the brand appeals to women and children. Wiley said LA Gear, along with offering athletic shoes, is preparing to license its name to other products. These opinion groups, she said, will help determine how the shoe maker should branch out.

At the same time, the Wiley company is in the midst of a campaign to bring a female-friendly salad bar to the Sizzler restaurant chain.

"What [Sizzler] determined was that while the restaurant and menu items were appealing to the male audience in general, it is women who really carry the veto power in restaurant choice," Wiley said. "We were really brought in to balance that."

Many advertising attempts to target women are way off base, Wiley said.

"Companies are spending a great deal of money from their budgets to attract the customer, and ultimately they're alienating the customer," she said. "It was just something I saw that I knew I could do better."

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