We’ve all seen it before, the personal hygiene aisle neatly separated into ‘women’s’ and ‘men’s’ sections. Products designed for women are pink and flowery, with sweet scents like vanilla and strawberry. In an overwhelming contrast, men’s products are dark, with clear, all-caps ‘FOR MEN’ distinctly slapped onto the product. While it’s possible, and even logical, to use a non-binary aesthetic on generic products- such as scents for home, dish soap, cars, etc.- these are instead being aimed at consumers based on gender demographics, prompting us to ask marketers, “is this the right marketing approach in 2022”?
Table of Contents
What is Gendered Marketing?
Gendered marketing consists of differentiating consumers based on their gender through tailoring one (or several) elements of the marketing campaign or product features based on gender stereotypes.
When coming up with a marketing strategy, the decision of how to address different audiences often comes up, and time after time, the audience is split between men and women. The assumption behind the practice of gendered marketing is that consumers are more receptive to products or communications that are tailored to their gender. But unfortunately, this usually means that men and women are portrayed in extreme stereotypical gender roles.
The most common stereotype is that “pink is for girls” and “blue is for boys”; logically, a typical example of gendered marketing is when a product is offered in two colors: pink for girls and blue for boys. We rarely see a non-binary aesthetic on gendered products that may not even need to be gendered in the first place.
With this approach, marketing often exploits the male insecurity of being seen as “feminine,” using fragile masculinity as the backbone of the campaign’s strategy. When marketing self-care or beauty products, there’s a clear distinction between what’s for ‘men’ and what’s for ‘women.’
No man wants to feel feminized and subjugated by a self-care product, after all.
In the last decade, there have been brands that went as far as saying using women’s products degrades men. Two alarming commercials that would likely not pass today’s cancel culture are brought to us by Old Spice and Dove:
What is the Effect of Gender-Tailored Marketing on Consumers?
Consumers’ pushback against gendered marketing comes from younger generations, calling out unnecessarily gendered products as part of a greater resistance to patriarchal ideals. People who identify as transgender, genderqueer, genderfluid, or non-binary, want to be seen and respected by society – and that extends to brands and marketing.
Gender-tailored marketing campaigns are still very common, yet according to recent studies from Harvard Business School, they can be a turn-off for consumers, particularly women. People resist being categorized—or made to feel like they are unwillingly reduced to a single identity—especially when the ad evokes a stereotype about their gender. In fact, gender-tailored ads often backfire to the point of dissuading women from choosing a product they would have considered if the company hadn’t emphasized their gender.
Consumers' pushback against gendered marketing comes from younger generations, calling out unnecessarily gendered products as part of a greater resistance to patriarchal ideals.
It might appear obvious now, but the youngest generation of consumers disputes the binary classification of gender altogether. A survey about gender fluidity from 2017 revealed that 50% of millennials consider gender to be a spectrum, and according to the J. Walter Thompson Intelligence report from 2015, 81% of Gen Z members strongly believe gender does not define a person. As a result, consumers tend to look away from brands that practice gendered marketing, disapproving of their lack of inclusion of consumers who do not identify as either male or female.
Marketing to a person’s gender not only risks alienating other potential consumers but also shows a failure by the company to dig for deeper insights about its audience and might even trigger an adverse reaction. There is a tight relationship between gender and marketing in our society. As a result, companies have convinced women to spend more on products that are nearly identical to those marketed to men, a phenomenon dubbed the “Pink Tax”. The Pink Tax is an unfairly priced tariff added to women’s products compared to men’s.
What Can Marketers Do?
A significant first step is to look closely at who your consumers are and how they are being represented – or not – in today’s society. Millennials and Gen Z-ers seek to align themselves with brands that show a more modern understanding of the gender spectrum.
Because consumers are becoming less and less receptive to gendered marketing, marketers should move away from gender-based strategies and start practicing gender-neutral marketing. Brands should consider going beyond “standard” demographics and collect more sophisticated consumer insights that segment consumers based on their personality traits, interests, lifestyle, and so on.
In many cases, gendered labels are not smart marketing; an inclusive marketing strategy is likely to be much more successful. How you design, position, and market your products can perpetuate gender-based stereotypes. Acknowledging this isn’t always easy, but it’s the first step if you want to remain relevant to the current and new generations of consumers.
What Can Consumers Do?
Keeping sustainability in mind, buying less and buying local is the best. We as consumers should ask why young boys buy products they see are directed to men. We should ask ‘why’ to deconstruct the imaginative fear of being perceived as ‘feminine.’ Men shouldn’t fear using womens products and the other way around.
Young and relevant brands such as ‘Beautybay’ now include brand ambassadors that are not specified by gender, creating a comforting and inclusive community of consumers. This kind of representation sends a very strong message, which would be considered ‘taboo’ or ‘niche’ compared to the 2010 ‘Oldspice’ commercials world.
Eventually, we need to end marketers targeting consumers based on their gender and at the very least remove obstacles that further this goal by eliminating the Pink Tax. Let us push to have marketers target consumers based on their values, personality, traits, and interests.