Whether a marketer is selling linen sheets or sheet metal, the frontline in the battle for the sexes’ dollars is simply this: If marketers can meet women’s expectations, they’ve already exceeded men’s.

So says marketing guru Marti Barletta, who wrote the book on it, "Marketing to Women" (Dearborn Press). She’s also the founder and CEO of The TrendSight Group, a consulting and research firm in suburban Chicago that advises marketers on what women — and men — want.

When it comes to buying a new car, the difference between male and female consumers is that guys focus on the basics — quality, reliability, safety, design, fuel economy — while women sweat the details.

"Men quickly figure out what they want and buy it, while women have longer lists," Barletta says. " ‘Does that SUV have a backup beeper and grocery-bag holders? Does that minivan come with remote-control doors? Is there enough storage under the floor? Does the rear-view mirror also let me glance into the backseat?’

"It’s not that men don’t want all that stuff, too. It just isn’t at the top of their conscious minds."

And women tend to look at car attributes in a different way than men. Take the need for speed. For him, it’s all about going from zero to 60 before he can sing, "Tramps like us, baby, we were born to run." For her, it’s all about being able to punch the accelerator when taking the on ramp to the freeway, so an 18-wheeler won’t squeeze her.

Men like convertibles for their sense of speed and power. Women like drop-tops because they appeal to heightened sensory experiences, from feeling the wind in their hair to seeing the stars overhead and smelling the roses along the parkway.

And savvy carmakers, acutely aware that women now buy 62 percent of new cars, are responding by rethinking their advertising messages.

They know that women don’t like the hard sell, and they don’t take to patronizing "special for women" ad messages, which they perceive to mean low quality and high price. And so-called pink-and-frilly advertising themes went out with the Stepford wives.

A case in point: It’s no coincidence that the fashionable and authoritative Lincoln Mercury TV spokeswoman implores members of her audience to "add" the Mercury Milan sedan to their list, instead of the traditionally blatant, "You should buy it."

"Women respond best to conversational and informal ad pitches, and spokespeople who are ‘just like me,’ " says Barletta. "I call it the girlfriend factor."

The fine line for advertisers, of course, is not to turn off their boyfriends in the process.

THE Y-BUY CHROMOSOME:
Men and women car shoppers look for the same basic qualities, but there’s something Y-chromosome-related that makes each sex view those qualities in different ways, says Marti Barletta, who adds that the following generally apply:

SAFETY

He Says: "It’s all about avoiding accidents," (tight steering, anti-lock brakes).
She Says: "It’s all about surviving accidents," (seat belts, air bags).

FUEL ECONOMY

He Says: "Saving money at the pump"
She Says: "Saving the planet"

RELIABILITY

He Says: "Keeps me out of the repair shop."
She Says: "Keeps me from being stranded at the side of the road."

FUN TO DRIVE

He Says: "Single sense: Power, you can’t touch me."
She Says: "Total sensory: Feel the wind, hear the engine purr, smell the new-car aroma."

COMFORT

He Says: "Feeling bumps in the road can be fun."
She Says: "Life has enough bumps. Give me heated seats and cushy leather."

DURABILITY

He Says: "Important, but old cars aren’t cool."
She Says: "As long as it’s reliable, drive on. Throwing away a perfectly good car is wasteful."

VALUE

He Says: "All the categories above."
She Says: "Those categories are just the short list."

STYLING

He Says: "The exterior —What other people see."
She Says: "The interior — Where I live."

POWER

He says: "The thrill of it all."
She says: "The relief of getting away from the 18-wheeler breathing down my neck."

WORST CAR AD PITCH

He Says: "Special for women."
She Says: "Special for women."

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