Why doesn’t Outsurance want my money?

Regular viewers of Desperate Housewives or The Good Wife may have noticed that Outsurance has launched a new insurance product aimed at women, called Lady@Out.  Many short term insurers have taken note of the fact that women tend to have better claims experience than men, and have tried to attract a larger share of this market by wrapping the lower premiums that are offered to women in a special package.  These packages include special benefits that are geared towards the needs of female policyholders, such as handyman services, handbag cover and trip monitoring (which involves regularly checking in with the policyholder by phone during longer journeys).

In principle, I think this is a smart idea.  Women do tend to be better insurance risks than men.  Note that I am referring to average experience over the whole of the insured population, not anecdotal examples.  A certain man may be a better risk than a certain woman, but when you calculate the average risk over a whole book of business, women do tend to cost insurers less than men.  The reason for this is that, although women tend to claim more often, the sizes of their claims tend to be smaller.  Women are more likely to have fender-benders, while men are more likely to write off their cars, often together with someone else’s car.

So it makes sense for a smart insurer to want to attract a larger portion of the female market, especially while it is still legal to discriminate based on gender.  Recent legislation passed in Europe has outlawed the use of gender as a rating factor in insurance.  This means that insurers will no longer be able to charge different insurance premiums to men and women based on their gender alone.  This is just the latest development in the international trend in financial services to not punish or reward people for factors over which they have no control, such as gender, ethnicity or other genetic factors.  In response to this, providers are moving towards using behavioural factors, such as driving behaviour captured using telematics devices (e.g. GPS systems).  This does seem altogether more fair, so I tend to support these developments.

In South Africa, gender rating is not illegal yet, though given South African regulators’ history of following the lead of those in Europe, we can certainly expect that it soon will be.  So it makes even more sense for insurers to take advantage of gender rating to secure a larger portion of the female market while they still can.

Which brings me to Outsurance’s latest marketing ploy.  It makes my blood boil.  It’s not the what of it, but the why that makes me furious.  Whoever they’re employing in their marketing department should be dragged through the streets and shot.  To illustrate what I’m talking about, let’s take a little look at the ads they flighted during last week’s episode of Desperate Housewives:

Ad number one:

A woman dressed in a style reminiscent of the 50’s minces up a garden path on ridiculously high heels.  She approaches the front door of a suburban house and rings the doorbell with long, lacquered fingernail.  The voiceover says:  “We’d like to welcome a new lady in town.”  The scene cuts to the interior of the house.  Another woman plucked straight from the 1950’s is shown from behind, wobbling to the front door on her stilettos.  She’s clearly wearing an apron, the strings of which are tied into a bow behind her waist.  Voiceover:  “Lady@Out, from Outsurance”.  The “lady” inside the house peeks through the letter slot, and we are shown a view of the visitor’s dainty high heels.  Voiceover:  “Offering exceptional benefits, especially for women.”  The house’s occupant opens the door, and the visitor is shown inside.

What’s wrong with this?

The emphasis on the word “lady” is off-putting.  The word carries many negative connotations.  The term lady-like is used in connection with submissive, docile and obedient behaviour.  This is the type of behaviour that was drilled into me by my girls-only high school, where the school-marms believed they had a calling to turn us into Young Ladies.  Not so long ago, ladies were the chattels of lords, to be sold by their fathers to their husbands.  Ladies were rescued by knights in shining armour.  The word lady does not conjure up the image of a self-sufficient, strong, ass-kicking woman.

The second problem is the way the characters are dressed.  The only person I know of that dresses like that is Lemon from Hart of Dixie.

The character is a ridiculous caricature, a woman desperately trying to turn back the clock to a time when ladies still existed.  Viewers are meant to pity her, not admire her.  So why would Outsurance clone this character to use in ads aimed at women?

Ad number two:

Another 50’s throwback minces down the street.  This one is wearing a hat.  She’s laden down with packages, clearly in the midst of a marathon shopping session.  Voiceover:  “Women cost less?!  Not often you can say that!  But when it comes to life and car insurance with Outsurance, it’s true!”

What’s wrong with it?

The concept of the ad hangs around the stereotype of women being addicted to shopping and expensive to maintain.  There is a subtle implication that the husband is the breadwinner, and will be purchasing the insurance on her behalf.  Another troubling implication is the one that women have nothing better to do or be interested in than shopping.

Ad number three:

Yet another 50’s style icon is sitting on a sofa in a living room filing her nails.  Voiceover:  “Double DIY.  Don’t do it yourself.”  The camera pans out, showing a muscular man clad in jeans, wife-beater sleeveless shirt, utility belt and work boots.  He’s standing on a ladder, mounting a picture on the wall.  Voiceover:  “With Lady@Out from Outsurance, you’ll have a handyman on call for those odd jobs around the house.”

What’s wrong with it?

I must confess it came as a bit of a surprise to me that women can’t hang pictures.  The woman in the ad is obviously too worried about breaking a nail to do it herself, so the big strong man had to be called in to do it for her.  Stereotype, much?

Ad number four:

A man is sitting on an easy chair, watching television.  The camera pans out, zooming in on a woman in the foreground.  She is busy stirring a cup of tea.  Wait, look closer!  What is she really doing?  Why, she is putting something in the tea, just a drop or two from a small vial.  She is smiling slyly.  Voiceover:  “You can trust Outsurance for life insurance premiums that will go down well.”  The woman hands the man the cup of tea, her smile widening.

This is my favourite of the lot.  What’s wrong with it?

The ad plays on the stereotype of women as sly poisoners of husbands for their money.  It clearly evokes Daisy de Melker and Mary An Cotton, both famous for serial poisonings.  Don’t worry husbands, you may not be able to trust your wife, but you sure can trust Outsurance!

Ad number five:

A (dare I say it) 50’s glamour model is driving down a suburban road.  Voiceover:  “When our guys say they’ll call, they actually do.  With the Lady@Out trip monitoring service.  We’ll call you every half hour to make sure you reach your destination safely.”

What’s wrong with it?

Why would a woman need to use this service?  Because she’s single, of course!  Obviously, if she had a husband, he would be calling her every half hour.  (Because he’s a gentleman.)  So it’s appropriate to play on the stereotype of the single woman, sitting at home, waiting for the phone to ring.  He said he’d call, but will he?  Oh, wait!  If he doesn’t call, it must be because he’s just not that into you..

Ad number six:

It’s evening.  A suburban house is shown from outside.  Voiceover:  “Desperate for insurance without the drama?”  A woman’s silhouette appears in the upstairs window.  She’s carrying a gun in her hand.  She screams.  The camera pans to the inside of the room.  It’s not a gun in her hand, but a hairdryer.  She’s pointing it at a spider.  She’s wearing a tight-fitting nightdress with lots of cleavage and nipple.  She turns on the hairdryer and blows the spider away.

What’s wrong with it?

Women scream when they see spiders.  And they all wear sexy, cleavage-revealing nightwear.

The whole campaign is based on tired, negative stereotypes of women, and I don’t like it.  It doesn’t make me want to go out and buy their products, it makes me want to cancel the insurance I already have with them.  It’s patronising and offensive.

I find it so offensive that I’ve discussed the ads with colleagues and friends.  Some people have defended the ads, saying that they’re inspired by the Desperate Housewives show itself.  The problem is, Outsurance isn’t trying to sell insurance to the characters from the TV show.  It’s trying to sell insurance to real women, women with real jobs and real interests.  Very few people actually live like the women in the show, and they probably couldn’t afford to even if they wanted to.  That’s why so many women enjoy watching it.  Wisteria Lane is a fantasy land, nostalgic for a time that is long gone.  And even though the characters are housewives, they’re not the scheming, needy poisoners hidden beneath a façade of meek obedience which are portrayed in the ads.  They are strong, independent women.

You’d think that Outsurance’s target market would be educated, economically active women, women with money and financial savvy.  Women, in fact, like me.  So why aren’t they targeting their marketing at me?  The answer, I suspect, is that they actually think that they are targeting women like me.  They really do think that basing their campaign on all the negative female stereotypes they can think of is the best way to attract us.  The only other explanation I can think of is that the campaign is not targeted at women at all.  It is targeted at men, who are assumed to be the buyers of insurance on behalf of their wives.  If this is the case, then they’re missing out on a large, growing, cash rich market.

I’ll tell you what I think, although I don’t know for sure and I have no way of finding out.  I think the whole company is run by men.  I don’t think there are any female voices in the decision-making process.  The reason I think this is that it’s very hard to believe that a woman would have allowed this to happen.  If they have any women employed in a senior position, surely one of them would have stopped it, would have pointed out that this is not the way to attract women.

And this is a brilliant example of why businesses need a diverse workforce on every level from Board to frontline customer service.  This is why the 2010 UK Corporate Governance Code specifically mentions the principle of diversity on Boards, particularly gender diversity.  The simple fact is, not having a diverse workforce, especially at the decision-making levels of your business, leads to bad business decisions.  If you don’t employ a certain subsection of the population, then you shouldn’t even try marketing to them.

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