Is This the End of Gendered Marketing?
As the marketing industry better attunes to both social justice issues and the cultural changes spurred by younger generations, brands are shifting away from gender-based marketing. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are challenging the longstanding gender binary historically espoused by our society and our advertisers, and they seek to align themselves with brands that show a more modern understanding of the gender spectrum. Addressing your brand's perspective on gendered marketing and working to support people's diverse gender identities will help your company become more aware and reach more consumers in an empathetic and appropriate manner.
We'll discuss a few examples of brands that missed the mark on gendered marketing, some that are making great strides in creating a marketing landscape that's inclusive of the full gender spectrum, and share actionable takeaways to help your company make positive changes when it comes to gender – and mean it.
Hindsight in 2020
Today, the "pink tax" is seeing more backlash, and brands offering female versions of products are more likely to be ridiculed (check out "Bic For Her" as a glaring example from 2012). Younger generations are pushing back on what they see as unnecessarily gendered products as part of a greater resistance to patriarchal ideals. (There's even a Facebook Page by this name devoted solely to calling out such tone-deaf marketing.)
Moving forward, we expect to see fewer gender reveal parties, more inclusion in children's toys for anyone (trucks aren't just for boys anymore, nor dolls for girls), and, as a result, a shift toward gender-inclusive marketing from brands.
Brands Doing It Right
Many brands have embraced gender inclusivity and diversity in their marketing. Sephora comes to mind as a strong example with its "We Belong to Something Beautiful" campaign and its inclusion of transgender models. Nike ran the "Unlimited Courage" campaign with the first trans Olympian in an ad and also offers a line of gender-neutral products. Both brands also provide further information about their support of gender inclusivity on dedicated landing pages and maintain the value through their brand identities.
Fashion is certainly on the leading edge when it comes to fluidity. Gender-neutral brands like Converse, Birkenstock, and Vans have always been ahead of the curve with fairly androgynous styles, and Fred Perry's latest collaboration is designed for every body.
"Our visual presentation, largely anchored by our style choices, is the most unique way any of us can express ourselves. So with more and more people choosing to identify themselves outside of simply male or female, is gendered clothing on it's way out?"
– Barret Wertz, AskMen
Moving with the Times
In 2018, Doritos experienced some major derision for its low-crunch, lady-friendly chips that were intended to be less messy and fit in a purse (cue the nationwide eye roll). On the flip side, Gillette, with its slogan of "The Best a Man Can Get," has used what could be considered an outdated message to pivot its positioning. The brand has evolved from its late 80s campaign featuring sports and Wall Street and stereotypically manly activities to reinvent its position and confront toxic masculinity. In a recent short film the brand released, they asked: "Is this the best a man can get?" and implored men to become better role models for today's boys.
What You Miss When You Miss the Mark on Gender
The risks of gender-based marketing include falling back on stereotypes to push products and ignoring large groups of consumers in their campaigns. Modern women don't want to be targeted exclusively for household products or reduced to a minimized consumer category. And, more families are raising their children outside of the rigid gender roles of previous generations.
People who identify as transgender, genderqueer, or non-binary want to be seen and respected in society – and that extends to brands and marketing. GLAAD has estimated about 12% of Millennials consider themselves gender nonconforming, so ignoring this population is not just a miss from an awareness perspective, but can also negatively impact a brand's sales.
Bring It Back to Your Values
As with approaching any cause or cultural shift, becoming more gender-inclusive needs to be a comprehensive initiative. Companies should look at their employee makeup – are they hiring people across the gender spectrum? How are they supporting trans rights in general? Younger, and often more progressive, consumers can smell BS from a mile away, so virtue signaling by simply partnering with gender-fluid influencers or offering gender-neutral product lines will not be enough on its own.
A great first step is to take a closer look at who your consumers are and how they are being represented – or not – right now. If you're a beer company that's generally pushed a hyper-masculine aesthetic, are other genders also purchasing your products? How can you reach and understand your audience to better serve their needs, and ultimately, sell more product?