Marketers' Shocking New Ability to Target Women

Could some coveted devices put you at risk in a way you never suspected?

Posted Mar 03, 2015

Source: baranq/Shutterstock

During the fertile phase of their monthly cycle, women are prone to greater risk taking. For psychologists and other researchers, this leads to the conclusion that they are more likely to initiate sexual affairs. Marketers have discovered the same research and the conclusion that women are also more likely to try new brands during this time—and now they seem ready to use this information in targeted marketing campaigns.

Assuming that they can get away with it, would such a scheme work?

Sexual Psychology and the Menstrual Cycle

In an earlier post, I discussed some of the psychological changes associated with the days around ovulation that occur for women mid-cycle. Women do not have a distinct sexual "heat" like many other mammals when sexual activity increases markedly, possibly because they are sexually receptive throughout the cycle. (This implies that sex for humans has other functions apart from reproduction, such as maintaining a relationship or extracting benefits from partners).

During this periovulatory phase, women actually become more sexually discriminating rather than less so. They may dress more provocatively, thereby advertising their physical attractiveness and mate value. But at the same time, they are attracted to more stereotypically masculine men in what is generally interpreted by evolutionary psychologists as a quest for superior genes. Women in monogamous relationships express more dissatisfaction with their current partner during the fertile phase of the cycle and are somewhat more likely to initiate extramarital relationships at this time.

University of Texas marketing researchers Kristina Durante and Ashley Rae Arsena also found that women are flightier with respect to choices of a variety of consumer products, from candy bars or lipstick colors to high-heeled shoes. In fact, women may opt to try 15 to 20 percent more products when fertile compared to during the low-fertility phase of the cycle.

This is not a huge difference, but it might be significant help a new consumer product for women get an edge against established brands. From a marketing perspective, the fertile phase of the cycle is a time not just to introduce new products but also to offer women premium brands at a time when they are most likely to trade up.

Hence, the buzz for this research amongst marketers.

Selling to Estrogen

We have become accustomed, begrudgingly, to being tracked on the Internet by scores of companies that collect our data. Now such big-data operations can try to link our online keystrokes with what is happening inside our bodies.

How is this even possible?

One source of our vulnerability is the growing popularity of wearables such as physical activity monitors and smart watches that connect to the Internet and transmit personal data. Some of these devices automatically record data such as pulse rate and temperature. As users of the “rhythm” method of birth control know, temperature rises during ovulation, giving the marketers at least one good clue to a woman's reproductive condition. But some women already volunteer information about their reproductive condition by using cell phone apps that track their menstrual cycle or entering such data into fitness trackers.

In the brave but creepy new world of marketing, a woman who logs onto Facebook during her fertile phase could expect to be barraged by ads for new consumer products—promotions that would be absent on non-fertile days.

It is not happening yet, but it is technically possible—and it is hard to see who has the power to stop it.

Sauce for the Gander

Are men vulnerable as well?

Men are just as exposed to bio-marketing as women are. After all, companies already use sexy female models to market cars, beer, and other products to men, because such appeals raise their testosterone levels. (In a recent blog, I explained why sexy waitresses receive bigger tips.)

Men don't have a monthly cycle, but they do have an annual cycle—testosterone peaks in the fall. Perhaps marketers could one day tap into data from wearables that identify the perfect time of the year for selling sports cars to men.