Why those who are accusing brands of monetising the menopause need to understand how markets form

A busier than ever World Menopause Month equates with big gains. There are leaders and champions in all quarters building positive action. Carolyn Harris, MP, is pushing for change at government level. Organisations such as GenM with its huge membership of brands, Menopause Mandate, Menopause Matters, My Menopause Centre and celebrities and medical specialists are all pushing hard for female health equality. But is awareness enough? I don’t think any of us think so.

GP responsiveness remains varied with anecdotal evidence still reporting women being refused menopause care and offered anti-depressants and sleeping pills rather than hormone therapy. Women continue to leave the workforce at an alarming rate. A menopause specialist who set up a private clinic after failing to get traction within the NHS, says that women are ‘broken’ by the time that they find her. Women are leaving jobs and relationships with later regret – finally having got help, they realise this was a mistake. Education remains poor, services are patchy, products not readily available.

All of this leaves a lot still to do at the close of World Menopause Month. So how else do we help?

My argument is that we encourage more brands to market more products and services to help more women. And to do that, we need to address the ever-increasing resistance.

Hearing loudly the cries of #menowashing when brands enter into the fray, I want to offer a different point of view. I would argue that the change we’re seeing, with brands finally starting to take notice and get involved, is essential to building the female health market we need.

Let’s start with FemTech. Typically niche (it is women’s health after all) recent figures show its continued growth, expected to hit USD 13.3 billion by 2030, and at a CAGR of 11% from 2022 to 2030. The research being funded is leading to more market understanding. And it’s this sensing of new market need that sees new products and services entering the market. Starting to raise market demand.

Researchers behind GlyconAge, for example, a science-based home test kit that measures ‘biological ageing’ learned that the very dramatic ageing in women (which is different from men) happens many years before the loss of the final cycle.

This defined perimenopause as a significant factor in female ageing. And it validated the benefits in preventative action 5 or 10 years before menopause – much earlier than women typically go to their GP with menopause symptoms. This kind of evidence and understanding is good. But we need the products and services designed to address that need. And this is where the issues come.

The accusations are that brands are ‘cashing-in’ on menopause rather than endeavouring to improve people’s health. But I don’t think we can easily separate the two.

Market demand is growing – not least in response to the pioneering work of those listed at the start of this discussion. And as demand grows, the market will respond to offer the range of products and services we need. We shouldn’t knock the influx – it’s essential.

As Julian Kynaston, Founder at Propaganda Agency asserts, “We need the hype – to build the new purpose-driven market women’s health requires. It needs to be sensationalised, flooded, front of mind and dynamic for products to innovate, try (and fail) and for the good stuff to surface. This is how markets form’.

And yes, much of this will be superficial. Much of it won’t appeal to me – and what does, might not appeal to you. But eventually, the good stuff will be apparent. And those products will survive and thrive – helping us to do so too.

Markets don’t emerge or just appear. They are made by suppliers seeing a need and offering their solution to that need. A new market is created when a product or service enters that addresses needs that haven’t previously been met.

Suppliers will keep producing as long as they can sell for a price that exceeds the cost of making. Buyers will purchase providing their satisfaction is greater than the price. If prices rise, additional suppliers will be encouraged to enter the market and supply will increase until a market-clearing price is reached again. If prices fall, suppliers who are unable to cover their costs will drop out.

And consumers are discerning. Peer recommendation is the most reliable form of marketing. Poor reviews determine the product’s life span. The ones that last are the ones we need.

New markets are also created when brands offer an under-served clientele established products not previously targeting them. Women over 40 are out earning and outspending those under 40 for the first time ever and Forbes calls women over 50 Superconsumers due to their household-wide purchasing power. But we’re not being targeted!

GenM, the menopause partner to brands, found that 87% of menopausal women feel overlooked by brands and and 97% felt brands should work harder for them. It’s fair to say the ‘clientele’ is feeling underserved! This is a big opportunity for brands and I want them to deliver.

We also have to recognise that this is not one size fits all. Human beings are not a perfect science. Choice is imperative. ALL people who have a uterus go through this life stage. All socio-demographics, all ethnic groups, all cultures. We need a wide range of responsive brands to come into the market to meet the needs of all the market.

Brands at the moment are dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t. Primark’s sweat-wicking sleep wear has had much #menobashing (and much praise). Primark is well-placed to help women who need help that is accessible, affordable AND effective. It won’t appeal to everyone and it doesn’t need to.

The #menobashing is compounded by the argument that if you take HRT, then all is sorted. Many can’t or don’t want to take HRT. And HRT doesn’t stop me wanting age-appropriate, life appropriate services. Lifestyle is key to healthy living at any age. Weight gain and lack of movement, poor sleep, diet and stress – all of these challenge ageing well.

Founders who have built businesses based on selling wellness services to women of 40+ over many years feel increasingly furious about the new messaging that HRT is a silver bullet – finding it an assault to their livelihood, integrity and purpose.

Because this is about ageing rather than just menopause. Pre, peri and post menopause all bring health challenges AND most importantly, health and life opportunities. Women are not defined by being menopausal, we’re defined by our life stage and our needs.

Market forces have a role to play in raising the expectations of consumers and bringing this into the acceptable – and attractive – public domain. We want this to be a sexy and attractive space for brands to play in.

Perhaps a good summary is a reminder of what we’re dealing with. Statistics from Forbes this week cite 1.1 billion women worldwide at post-menopause by 2025. 6 million women are entering menopause at any one time. In the UK, less than 10% of women are happy with the menopause care they receive. 3 in 5 are affected at work and 900,000 have left their jobs. Women of 40-50 have the highest rate of depression based on age and gender in the US. 1 in 5 women have Alzheimers (compared to 1 in 11 of men) and 1 in 2 women will break a bone due to osteoporosis.

My final point is the analogy to pregnancy – another time of hormonal shift when we seek specialist help. And there is plenty of it. Whether it’s supplements, clothing, exercise routines or nursery designs, it’s all there. And I’ve not yet seen the bashtag #pregwashing.

With women at 50% of the population, surely we don’t want to keep harping on about the negatives. Brands – let’s see you. And if you see us respectfully, insightfully and in an evidence-based manner, we’ll love you.