The End of Gendered Marketing

Consumers are becoming less and less receptive to gendered marketing. Time to switch to gender-neutral marketing!

KNOWLEDGE @ KRISTIANIA: Marketing

Deplhine Caruelle, Kristiania University College.
Millennials tend to look away from brands that practice gendered marketing, writes associate professor Delphine Caruelle at the Kristiania University College. Therefore, Time to switch to gender-neutral marketing!

In 2018, UN Women, a sub-division of the United Nations, launched an initiative called “Unstereotype Alliance”, which aims to eliminate the use of gender-based stereotypes in advertisement.

This initiative has rallied large international companies such as Google, Microsoft, HP, Procter & Gamble, and GSK. Far from being anecdotal, this initiative sheds light on a more general phenomenon: the end of gendered marketing.

What is gendered marketing?

Gendered marketing consists in segmenting consumers based on their gender and in tailoring one or several elements of the marketing mix (product, price, promotion, place) based on gender stereotypes (Powers 2019).

One such stereotype is that pink is for girls and blue is for boys and, logically enough, a typical example of gendered marketing is when a product is offered in two colors: pink (targeting female consumers) and blue (targeting male consumers).

This pink and blue divide is particularly common for children’s toys, but very different product categories are also affected: stationaries, medication, personal hygiene products, food and drinks to name just a few.

Another typical example of gendered marketing is advertisement that portrays men and women in stereotypical gender roles.

Pink Tax

In some instances, the two versions of the same product – one version targeting women and the other targeting men – are priced differently.

In 2015, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs reviewed 794 products offered in both a male and a female version and found that the female version was 7% more expensive (on average) than the male version, a phenomenon popularized as the “pink tax”.

Consumers responses to gendered marketing

The assumption behind the practice of gendered marketing is that consumers are more receptive to products or communication tailored to their gender.

However, this assumption is challenged by two major societal changes.

  1. Traditional gender roles are blurring. For instance, household chores used to be considered the exclusive domain of women, but men and women are now splitting the housework. Conversely, jobs that used to be for men only – such as police jobs – are now dominated by women: in 2020, 51% of the first-year students at the Norwegian Police University College are women. As men and women are increasingly doing the same tasks, activities, and jobs, products or communication based on gender stereotypes become less relevant to consumers.
  2. The youngest generation of consumers disputes the binary classification of gender. A survey revealed that 50% of millennials consider gender to be a spectrum. As a result, millennials tend to look away from brands that practice gendered marketing, disapproving their lack of inclusion of consumers who do not identify as either male or female.

Reinforcing gender stereotypes

Besides, ethical concerns have been raised about gendered marketing. Notably, gendered marketing has been held accountable for reinforcing gender stereotypes (Lyons 2019).

By portraying women and men in traditional gender roles, gendered marketing perpetuates the idea that such roles are the norms and goes against the societal changes mentioned above. 

Another consumer concern relates to the fairness of gendered marketing, particularly when a product targeting one gender is more expensive than the equivalent product targeting the other gender (Stevens and Shanahan 2017).

What can marketers do?

Because consumers are becoming less and less receptive to gendered marketing, marketing managers should consider practicing gender-neutral marketing.

That is, they should consider stopping to use binary gender as a variable to segment consumers. Several brand initiatives exemplify this transition from gendered marketing to gender-neutral marketing.

For instance, numerous toy stores have stopped categorizing toys as «for boys» versus «for girls»; instead, they categorize toys based on which occasion children play with them (outdoor, roleplay, etc.).

In a similar vein, BIC launched a unisex razor, portraying both men and women in its communication and advertising the razor as «made to shave any hair anywhere», thus offering a truly gender-neutral product.

More sophisticated segmentation

In conclusion, firms should consider going beyond mere demographics and collecting more sophisticated consumer insights that allow a segmentation of consumers based on their personality traits, their interests, their lifestyle and so on.

The goal is to tailor the marketing mix elements in a manner that resonates with what consumers deeply want, instead of assuming that the needs and wants of consumers depend solely on their gender.

References:

Lyons, E. (2019). Ban on ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes in advertising comes into force. Marketing Week. https://www.marketingweek.com/harmful-gender-stereotypes-advertising/

Powers, K. (2019). Shattering Gendered Marketing. American Marketing Association. https://www.ama.org/marketing-news/shattering-gendered-marketing/

Stevens, J. L., & Shanahan, K. J. (2017). Structured abstract: Anger, willingness, or clueless? understanding why women pay a pink tax on the products they consume. In Creating Marketing Magic and Innovative Future Marketing Trends (pp. 571-575). Springer, Cham.

This popular article is first published in Kunnskap Kristiania 2020/2021. Kunnskap Kristiania is a science Communication Magazine published by Kristiania University College.

Text: Associate Professor Delphine Caruelle, Department of Marketing at Kristiania University College.

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Send your comments and questions regarding this article by E-mail to kunnskap@kristiania.no.

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