Ellas Deciden: Twenty Years of «Marketing in Feminine»

Published in barcelona-metropolitan.com

Gemma Cernuda-Canelles founded the company Ellas Deciden just over twenty years ago. It was the first-ever communications and advertising agency in Spain dedicated to the female consumer, and at the time was revolutionary in its concept. The goal of Ellas Deciden is to “think your brand in feminine,” and to help companies become more profitable by recognizing and appealing to the tastes, interests and priorities of women.

Cernuda-Canelles is also a lecturer, teacher and writer of numerous articles and books. She wrote the first whitepaper on women and banking in Spain and is recognized as one of the most influential voices among female business leaders in the country. We sat down with her to find out more about her company, her overall philosophy and how she sees the future of marketing in Spain.

Barcelona Metropolitan: Your company has just celebrated its 20th anniversary, congratulations! What were the reasons for launching a branding and communications agency specifically geared towards women? Was it because, as you’ve stated publicly many times, 80% of the purchasing power in the overall market is in the hands of the female part of the population, therefore it made economic sense? Or was there also a social motivation?

Gemma Cernuda-Canelles: As Anita Roddick (founder of The Body Shop) once said, sometimes it is necessary that something in society bothers you enough to give you the impulse to do it yourself. In some ways, that’s the energy that pushed me to start my agency Ellas Deciden twenty years ago. I didn’t identify with the advertising that I saw, and I didn’t feel visible as a first-class consumer.

BM: In the two decades since you founded the agency, how has the overall approach to marketing changed in Spain?

GCC: There is much more awareness of the idea that advertising should be transparent. And that of the need to create brands that have a social impact if they really want to stand the test of time. Also, that the three social causes that most interest women are activism in health, sustainability and feminism.

BM: What impact do you think your work specifically has had on these changes?

GCC: The impact of being a pioneer in “comunicación en femenino” (feminine communications) is to question the status quo. It is to provoke a new way of looking at branding and creating communication strategies. It is a new way to be notorious and to position yourself in the market.

What we did at Ellas Deciden—especially in conferences, articles, decalogues, network activism and books—has been to «evangelize» and be the thorn in everybody’s side. We’ve shared our data and case studies so that other marketing directors and business people see that conventional advertising and branding simply do not connect with women.

BM: They say that feminists are not born, they are created by their life experiences. Do you remember a specific moment or period in your life when you realized that your personal and professional path would be based on focusing your values through the lens of feminism?

GCC: I don’t remember a specific moment. I did grow up in a house with a father who was a male chauvinist, and two brothers who enjoyed more privileges because they were men. I’m sure this left quite a mark on me. Although my father is also the one who ultimately opened doors for me to leadership positions in the business world—these are the paradoxes of life.

When you experience invisibility and the dominant patriarchal culture first-hand, the other side of things is accentuated. You become more aware of being a woman and of demanding the 50% visibility, presence and attention. It is a matter of diversity, and at the end, of profitability as well.

One becomes a feminist, whether one is male or female. Feminism is a free, happy movement that seeks equality, freedom and a democracy; it does not oppress, does not impose, does not rule. It’s all positive. We are all feminists, even if we don’t know it yet.

BM: What are the differences between what you learned at the University of Barcelona here in Spain and at Columbia University in the US, and your own approach to marketing? And what things did you learn at those institutions that continue to serve you?

GCC: I learn every day both outside and inside the University. The American influence and specifically that of Columbia University was very executive, very practical. Using metrics and success stories, they taught that we must measure everything in order to learn how to convince, and thus make an impact with our proposal.

At Columbia I studied sociology and executive marketing. These two points of view, one humanistic and the other economic, complement one another. This helps me know how to make proposals to our clients.

I was also lucky enough to take a course for women business advisors at UCLA, which was very powerful because the overall view of an administrative board composed of fifty women from all over the world was very inspiring to me.

BM: Why is it important to take into account the point of view or way of thinking of either a woman or a man when we are talking about financial services? If I were to assume the role of devil’s advocate for a moment, I would say that money is money in anyone’s hands, correct? Or not?

GCC: Because if we women represent 51% of current account holders, we must be involved in the entire design, proposal and marketing process of financial products. Banks overlook women and are missing out on being an ally. We need a female-oriented bank. That’s what we advocate for the idea of SheBanking.

BM: Emotion is always a factor when a person decides to buy one product or another. What should a marketing department keep in mind if it wants to attract specifically female customers?

GCC: That’s absolutely true, everyone is moved by emotion—but not only by emotion. This is another of the clichés about marketing to women. We (and men too) are moved by many things, above all by the ten values that we explain in the Decálogo+1 of Comunicación en Femenino on our website. We’re looking for humanity, empathy, transparency, impact, functionality, design, practicality, dialogue…

Isn’t it true that if you want to negotiate with a Japanese person, you will learn to speak Japanese? Well, to connect with, understand, convince, and seduce a woman you must learn her vocabulary—learn to «speak woman.” Easy.

BM: What is “SheThinking,” and what role does it or should it have in a company’s social media strategy if its goal is to increase its market share?

GCC: They have to think in the feminine, to think from the SHE; from HER.

By applying the principles of the Decalogue that I mentioned previously, and by including women throughout the entire process, common sense will have to prevail. Above all, do not skimp on research. We must find out what women are looking for in each sector, market and product. Don’t assume.

BM: Is there a Spanish company that you would cite as a good example of how to apply SheThinking in the way it promotes its products?

GCC: More and more companies are investing in market research, and are aware that if they make a mistake, social networks can turn against them in only a few hours. The social network is largely feminine and that is very good, but it can be a very bad thing for the company if women’s experience with the brand is negative overall.

Both Campofrío, FontVella and the pioneering classic Dove are doing things well. It is a very important part of their makeup. That there is an attitude from within that encourages seeking diversity, and that shows in their advertising. Companies have to do it right and say it aloud. They need to combine the ethical and aesthetic: the two sides of the coin.

BM: What is your “GenderFilter” service and how does it help a company? Can it be applied to the selling of any type of product?

GCC: It is a system that we designed seven years ago, with seven steps that are a litmus test for inclusive communication. If before issuing a communication or ad, we pass it through the GenderFilter, it’s guaranteed not to harm anyone’s sensibilities.

BM: Today there is more talk than ever about queer, trans and non-binary people and their role in society. Do you think that some strategies that you promote with Ellas Deciden can be applied to people who do not necessarily have a male-or-female binary perspective, or who don’t define themselves as masculine or feminine in the traditional sense?

GCC: Each group must be researched and listened to. We cannot assume anything, nor lump all groups of people into one big bag. Let’s learn from our past mistakes. The key is research, research, research!

BM: Is there a central idea or basic piece of advice that you try to impress upon the students who take your master’s classes at the UAB in Barcelona? What do you tell them is the future of marketing in Spain?

GCC: The present state of communications is inclusive and activist. Marketing must be brave, learn to reflect society and make us aware as consumers. The new consumer is female.

BM: What is the most common question you receive from your clients now, as they are trying to regroup in a market impacted by two years of a global pandemic?

GCC: They’re trying to see a way forward. But the pandemic has erased consciences, basic values and budgets. Only good brands with quality products at a fair price will last. Brands with purpose, with social impact, offering a consistent price, who pay their people well, who take care of the environment and care about diversity and conciliation will survive.

BM: What is the most important point you’d like our readers to take away from this interview? 

GCC: That when we buy, we decide if we want to be part of the solution or part of the problem. That euro invested reflects our values, as well as our approval of what the brand stands for. If I don’t connect with a brand or product, I don’t buy it. Women should recognize and use the power they wield as consumers.

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