Ads don't give women what they really want

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WHEN WOMEN watch commercials, they prefer soft sex to hard sell, and accessible fantasies to blatant eroticism, according to a new study.

A surprising number of big companies do not understand what women want, and often deliver the wrong sort of sex - irritating or alienating them in the process, according to research by the advertising company J Walter Thompson.

An advertisement for a Nissan Micra, for instance, was perceived as erotic, but unrealistic. Women were unimpressed by a predatory female in black silk who decided, after dinner, to padlock her man to the banister. They thought the ad weird.

Peugeot was more canny. In one of its recent advertisements, a women is in bed and has some chap concealed under the covers. She looks out of the window, to see her husband cleaning the car, the situation being resolved by the revelation that the person under the sheets is the couple's little son.

"It reassures women that they can be mumsy and sexual at the same time," said Alison Turner, one of the authors of the report. "They can look at the ad and think, `I'm like that'."

The study, among women over 20 from Manchester, Bristol and Leicester, found young actresses were a turn-off. Consumers liked seeing beautiful women in ads, but wanted them to be more Lauren Hutton than Kate Moss - mature rather than twentysomething.

Other companies misjudged women by giving them too much "real life". In an Ovaltine commercial, a woman is shown struggling in the rain with two children and a buggy. Enter Ovaltine with the obvious message: Ovaltine cheers you up.

The snag was, women in the study identified so much with the image in the ad that it disturbed them. "Yes that is what it's like with kids," was a typical response. "I live it every day. I don't want to see it."

McDonald's also slipped up. It tried to connect with real lives in a series of ads showing a boy trying to persuade his divorced parents to reunite, with the implication that he succeeded.

Women were upset, taking the view: "Please don't do this. Divorce is a reality, and this story will give children false hope."

Why do so many companies get it wrong? Ms Turner believes that they tend to look at advertisements in a more intense way than most viewers. "We forget that women don't `consume' ads the way we do," she said, "and that 30 per cent of them leave the room when the commercials start."