Sigmund Freud Gets an Answer in American Express Ad Winners

Article excerpt

In 1963, Psychiatry In American Life quoted Sigmund Freud as having once admitted, "The great question which I have not been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is, 'What does a woman want?'"

If Freud were still around today he might successfully direct that lifelong query to marketers at the American Express Co., which Friday garnered two Ms. Liberty Awards -- "Libbies" -- for nonsexist, pro-women advertising from the national feminist organization Women Against Pornography. American Express won the Libbies, according to the New York-based coalition, for portraying women "as they are and as they wish to be seen."

And how do women wish to be seen?

Kristen Reilly, WAP Graphics Director and a member of the 10,000-member organization's national steering committee, posits that women desire "more equitable relationships between themselves and men in the world of business, which is what the American Express ads show."

Moreover, the facts behind the American Express advertisements indicate that what contemporary women really seek is equity. The percentage of women customers among the company's cardholding base of approximately 20 million has shot from 16% to 30% since 1980, according to Shelly Porges, American Express director of consumer marketing. She is quick to point out that this 30% block represents only women holding accounts in their own name; plenty more are carrying cards under the names of other account holders.

The fruits of American Express' drive to capture women's attention have been sweet, Ms. Porges says. In 1984, the company and its advertising agency, Ogilvy & Mather, New York, culled rave reviews from both trade and consumer publications, from Advertising Age to Newsweek, for print and TV ads. Now the firm can count lobbyists from Women Against Pornography among its admirers.

One of the two American Express ads awarded WAP's golden Ms. Liberty certificates depicts three women and a man celebrating in a cocktail lounge after work. The caption reads, "To Maggie, for getting a raise, to Jack, for losing ten pounds, to Julie, for getting an American Express card. And to me, for getting Julie to pay for the champagne." Ms. Reilly opines that this material takes "admirable steps away from conventional advertising stereotypes of women as pound-losers and men as business executives."

The second American Express Libby-winner is one example of the company's new "Interesting Lives" print campaign. It depicts a briefcase-toting black woman who, having just descended from a jet at dusk, steps across an airstrip with a colossal stuffed animal. She is beatifically, if unrealistically, uncrinkled and smiling; her coif and makeup are perfectly in place after a presumably demanding day. …