Many of us have been taught since we were kids that some things are for girls and some things are for boys.
But it wasn’t always so: boys in blue and girls in pink were only gender signifiers just before World War I, and Elizabeth V. Sweet, an assistant professor at the University of San Jose State wrote in The Atlantic that toys have become more gendered in recent years than they were in the 1950s. It may seem like everything is gendered now, from pens (Bic for Her: Gone , but never forgotten) to bathroom wipes.
But that seems to be changing. Last year, creative agency Bigeye conducted a study of 2,000 consumers aged 18+, which showed that the majority of millennial respondents think traditional gender roles and binary labels are exceeded. Half of Gen Z respondents said the same.
“Among young consumers, the idea of gender is fluid. It’s seen as a spectrum, not a binary,” Adrian Tennant, CSO of Bigeye, who led the study, told Marketing Brew. represent your brand, especially in fashion or beauty, I think there’s a growing expectation that you don’t want to be too binary in those executions.”
Experts say brands that do so could risk being left behind.
Abe Blackburn, director of technical solutions at The Social Element, who identifies as non-binary, called gender segmentation a “handy shortcut” for marketers. “This is no longer how communities thrive,” they told us. “You should look at what is [customers’] passions, what are their interests, where are they, how do they interact with brands? All of this data is now available to us.
There is also the added factor of the pink tax, i.e. the surcharge on products specifically marketed to women. The New York City Department of Consumer Affairs found that, on average, products designed for women cost 7% more than similar products for men.
Jaclyn M. Metzinger, an attorney and partner at law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, said class action lawsuits over the pink tax have increased in recent years, a sign of growing consumer pushback. She told us she expects more lawsuits (like last year’s case over Unilever’s deodorant pricing, which was thrown out by a circuit court judge) , as well as state laws dealing with the pink tax, appear: “It’s a little difficult to predict how these trajectories are going to play out at this point,” she said. “But I think it’s is a trend that will continue to grow in the next five to 10 years.”
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In places like New York, where it’s against the law to mark “substantially similar” goods and services, Metzinger said brands have sidestepped the issue by using more expensive materials on marked-up products to justify differences in price. price.
Blackburn pointed out that the very idea of a women’s razor came from Gillette, which created the first women’s razor in 1915 to expand its customer base. “A lot of this is completely made up and contrived,” they said. “But it still has so much of an impact on how people see themselves.”
“If all dolls go to girls, then boys miss nurturing skills, and if all trucks and building things go to boys, girls miss developing spatial skills,” Abby Kaplan, chief creative officer at Strategy Adlucent, we were told.
Some countries, such as the UK, have instituted bans on gender stereotyping in advertising.
In the United States, brands across all industries have begun to embrace more inclusive products and messaging, from Fenty Skin to Lego to The Row. Rihanna has prioritized inclusivity when talking about her skincare line, Fenty Skin, since its inception, saying things like “I believe skincare is gender neutral.”
Target is perhaps one of the best-known examples. In 2015, the company demonstrated its commitment to gender inclusion by removing signage that offered “gender-based product suggestions” in areas like the toy section. California will be the first state to require major retailers to have gender-neutral toy sections by 2024, nearly 10 years after Target switched.
For brands that might be afraid to speak up or say the wrong thing, Blackburn said there really isn’t an excuse these days: “It’s our job as marketers of make sure we’re using the language correctly,” they said. This means not only researching what is appropriate, but also ensuring there is diversity on your team to help shape the message.
As the next generation grows with more gender-neutral options, Dipanjan Chatterjee, vice president and principal analyst at Forrester, said gender inclusion will only become the norm. In other words, brands shouldn’t see it as a one-off campaign, but rather as “a fundamental change in people’s attitude”, which will be reflected in the brands they buy.
“I think if brands haven’t already started thinking about it, they’re already behind the times,” Chatterjee said. “And there’s a lot of catching up to do.”