“Women don’t buy Cooper Tires,” said the Cooper Tires rep. “And they will never buy them, if you don’t market your tyres to women,” is what I should have said. But I didn’t—I was too shocked.

I went into the meeting with the belief that tyres were a universal product—both men and women must buy them to drive a vehicle, whether or not it’s a 4WD or a Mini Cooper. Based on my research and experience with my Cooper A/T3s, these were great quality tyres that made me feel safe driving with my children in the back seat, that changed the way my 4WD drove for the better, enhanced my vehicle’s performance off road and completely reversed the way I thought about tyres. All this got me wondering, especially after I dug through several dozen tyre company websites; why aren’t tyres pitched as anything other than ‘tough’ and/or ‘fast’ – two characteristics that I don’t really care about when I’m buying tyres. Of course, I’m a woman though!

Back to the meeting….I continued to poke the snake and suggest that Cooper do something bold and market to women. If they could relay the ‘safety’ and ‘value’ components of the brand, then perhaps they could expand their reach. Plus, I had just read a ‘wall of marketing’ in the company’s lobby that credited ‘differentiation’ for all its success. Well then let’s be different—let’s sell tyres to women! The rep didn’t want to hear a bit of it.

That’s when I realized the elephant in the room—tyres are not marketed to women at all. The more I thought about it, the more I felt like I lived in Saudi Arabia where women can’t even drive cars.

Pirelli changes its game: less boobs more brains

The Pirelli calendar is infamous, and honestly, it’s the only reason I know about the Italian tyre company and was for many years the main reason I never bought a set of its tyres. In 2015, it was more of the same: bare-chested models wearing latex. For 2016, however, the calendar took a bold step forward featuring fully clothed musician and poet Patti Smith, tennis player Serena Williams, comedienne Amy Schumer and even Yoko Ono.

When asked why Pirelli made the shift, Jennifer Zimmerman, the global chief strategy officer for the McGarryBowen, told The New York Times: “Between the first credible woman presidential candidate, all the powerful female characters on television from ‘Supergirl’ to ‘Madam Secretary’ to ‘Scandal,’ the pressure for parity in pay, it is impossible to ignore the empowerment of women. Besides, who uses a calendar anymore? It has to stand for something else.” Which makes me wonder why tyres are still solely marketed to men? If Pirelli finally gets it, maybe the others will too (hint, hint Cooper).

The 2017 Pirelli calendar, titled Emotional, features Dame Helen Mirren in a blanket, Kate Winslet’s hands and Uma Thurman in a roll-neck sweater. Photographer Peter Lindbergh said the women pictured were “nude while being fully dressed” because the camera had “stripped them to the very soul.”

He also said it was “a cry for beauty today against the terror of perfection and youth”, aiming to show “real women” as they are naturally without heavy makeup or retouching. “It’s another kind of naked, more important than body parts. What is more than being naked is to show yourself the way you are.”

Some interesting facts to chew on

It was difficult to find much data on women and the automobile industry in Australia, so I had to lean on Europe and the US for most of the stats.

In an article at Boston.com, research by Auto Pacific indicates that women will control two thirds of consumer wealth in the U.S. over the next decade.  In fact, Cooper Tires in the US has already done it’s research. Here’s what they’ve found:

  • 50-plus-year-old women are the healthiest, wealthiest, and most active generation of women in history;
  • nearly 80 percent of women use the internet for research before making a purchase;
  • women buy 65 percent of all new tires; make 65 percent of new car purchases and 45 percent of light trucks and SUV purchases.
  • Cooper’s stats show that women request 65 percent of service work to their vehicles; 70 percent of women are buying tires when they are informed they need them, with price as the top consideration, whereas, tire brand was only key to 20 percent of female buyers.
  • Also of note: three-fourths of women polled say they feel misunderstood by car marketers.

A study commissioned by marketing communications company INNOCEAN Worldwide Europe identified that women in particular are an ignored subset: the majority of tyre marketing campaigns are targeted strongly at men in spite of the fact that 41% of tyre buyers are women, and more than 70% of those women are not sure what make of tyre they will buy next.

A recent survey carried out by Delticom AG, Europe’s leading Internet tyre dealer, found that women drivers in Germany were appreciating the time and money savings that internet searching for tyre deals brings.

Ladies, your vehicle needs shoes too

As a woman, this is how I feel about buying tyres: cringe, I’m going to get ripped off by the tyre salesperson! Panic! I need good tyres or else I will either skid off the road and wreck, or my tyre will blow and cause an accident. Flat tires equate to being stranded on the side of the road, horror!

In fact, buying tyres was an extremely unpleasant experience for me—not because I’m a person, but simply because I’m a woman.

Needless to say, as a female consumer in Australia searching for new tyres, the first place I visit is www.tyresales.com.au to comparison shop, make sure I understand the different brands and won’t get ripped off by a salesperson. After visiting the websites of the major tyre brands including Mickey Thompson, BFG, Cooper Tires, Pirelli, Toyo, Dunlop, MAXXIS and Goodyear, I discovered that the only brand supporting women was Goodyear. Goodyear has created the Women with Drive program, free community workshops designed to educate women about the basics of vehicle maintenance. For me, that says ‘we care about women, we want to help you, we know you feel marginalised.’ The other websites are focused on racing (fast) and off road capability (tough), which doesn’t translate to me or most women at all.

Conclusion: if Cooper or any other tyre brand wants to sell more tyres in 2017, be bold, be brave, be a market leader. Support and sell tyres to women!

Words Christina Cannes; image Pirelli