Gender stereotypes have impacted how society functions for as long as we can remember, but today, many people roll their eyes at gendered stereotypes. Long are the days when blue was only a boy's color and pink was only a girl's color. This stereotype is relatively new anyway, as these two colors have had different gender associations over the centuries. In the 18th century, the colors pink and blue had no gender stereotypes as both genders freely wore the hues (Bhattacharjee, 2018).
However, in the late 19th century to early 20th century, mothers were advised to dress boys in pink so they would grow up to be masculine, and girls in blue so they would grow up to be feminine. It wasn’t until around the 1950s that advertisements and marketing began pushing pink for girls and blue for boys (Pickering, 2017). Knowing the stereotype for colors used to be reversed and didn’t even exist a few hundred years ago makes gender-based stereotypes seem even more trivial than it already is.
Gender stereotypes may still exist today, but they don’t nearly have the same impact as they did even 10 years ago. These stereotypes linger in multiple aspects of life, especially in the media. Advertisements and marketing strategies can even still center around gender stereotypes, even if they don’t realize they still are. Gendered stereotypes in marketing strategies can appear in the form of gender-based marketing.
What is Gendered Marketing?
Gendered marketing is a term that refers to the segmenting of consumers based on gender and often includes stereotypes. Gender-based marketing can tailor multiple elements of its marketing strategy including “product, price, promotion, place,” that are centered solely on gender stereotypes in an attempt to attract their target audience (Caruelle, 2020).
The most notable examples of gender-based marketing include the aforementioned gendered color associations. Gendered marketing uses this stereotype by selling blue clothes and toys to boys and pink clothing and toys to girls. However, this gender stereotype can also affect “stationaries, medication, personal hygiene products, food and drinks,” and more (Caruelle, 2020). This stereotype follows into adulthood, with women’s skincare products marketed in lighter colors, whereas men’s products will feature darker colors (Lorincz, 2023).
However, gender stereotypes in marketing aren’t just in the product or packaging, it can even be found in the price of products. Products geared toward women can often be found at different price points than a similar product marketed toward men. This gendered price difference is also known as the “pink tax” as products marketed toward women can be more expensive than the men’s equivalent in some cases.
In a 2015 study, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs administered a review of 794 products available to both men and women and discovered that the female versions of products were 7% more expensive on average than their male counterparts (Caruelle, 2020). Additionally, the same study found these results extended into childhood, with toys and accessories that were marketed toward girls also 7% more expensive than similar toys marketed to boys. Clothing marketed to girls was also found to cost 4% more than clothes in the boys’ section (Powers, 2019).
Why Gendered Marketing is an Ineffective Strategy
Gendered marketing is highly ingrained in marketing strategies, yet multiple studies show these gender-tailored messages are turning consumers away from their products. According to a study by Harvard Business School, women are particularly dissuaded more often from a product when gender stereotypes are present, even if they would have considered the product otherwise (Gerdeman, 2020).
Studies also show that consumers are opting in favor of gender-neutral products. In a 2015 report by J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, “81% of Gen Z members strongly believe gender does not define a person as much as it did in the past,” while 60% of Gen Z also believe there should be more gender selection options beyond men and women (Powers, 2019). Additionally, a 2017 study by Havas Group surveyed parents on a global scale and found that “61% of women and 46% of men believe children should be raised in…gender-neutral environments,” to protect them from gender stereotypes (Powers, 2019).
Public opinion also seems to reflect the results from these studies, as many companies have received negative feedback from heavily gender-stereotyped marketing and campaigns. In 2011, BIC received backlash from their gendered “Pens for Her” which were pink and purple pens marketed toward women which featured a “thin barrel designed to fit a woman’s hand,” (Powers, 2019). Similarly, after 62 years of Kleenex’s larger-sized tissues being called “Mansize,” the company renamed it “extra large” in 2018 following the company’s influx of sexist complaints (Powers, 2019).
However, public opinion and the opinion of marketers seem to not align when it comes to gender stereotypes in marketing. Kantar reported in 2015 that “76% of female consumers and 71% of male consumers,” believe their gender portrayals are outdated, with much of advertising heavily relying on stereotypes (Powers, 2019).
Meanwhile, “92% of marketing professionals reported that they believe they are portraying women positively and are successfully avoiding gender stereotypes in their work,” (Powers, 2019). When there is a divide in opinion on how well marketers are doing to portray women positively and realistically, then it’s time for marketers to reflect on the ways they may be perpetuating stereotypes.
How Some Brands are Embracing Gender Neutrality
Over the years, consumers have become less receptive to gendered marketing, encouraging marketers to incorporate a gender-neutral approach (Caruelle, 2020). For example, Lego followed in the footsteps of Toys R’ Us and began sorting toys on their new website by “age, themes, and interests,” as opposed to gender. By simply removing gendered stereotypes, navigating the Lego and Toys R’ Us websites makes it easier for consumers to find suitable products based on information that is more relevant and tailored for individuals (Lorincz, 2023).
Similarly, perfume brands are beginning to move toward launching gender-neutral fragrances. In 2020, Calvin Klein launched “CK Everyone” as a gender-neutral fragrance with their global campaign “I Love Everyone of Me” which features different genders telling a story with the fragrance (Lorincz, 2023). Other perfume brands that have followed suit are Diptyque, Dossier, Gucci, Le Labo, Replica, Tom Ford, and more. Even Bath and Body Works features a section on their website for gender-neutral candles and fragranced body products.
Additionally, brands that are traditionally viewed as male-centered brands such as Harley Davidson and Johnnie Walker, a whiskey brand, have begun featuring more women in their marketing campaigns and materials. By doing so, these brands are catering to their audience that identifies as women, while also expanding their target audience and inviting other women to try their brand (Lorincz, 2023).
How to Pivot Away from Gender-Based Marketing
If your business strategy still heavily relies on gender-based marketing, it's time to rework your marketing strategy. Removing gender stereotypes in favor of gender neutrality doesn’t mean less personalization in marketing. In fact, pivoting away from gendered marketing can open the doors to deeper personalization (Lorincz, 2023).
Pivoting away from gender roles in marketing is easier than some may think and will create a marketing strategy that is more impactful in the long run. When moving away from gender-based stereotypes in marketing, you’ll want to increase personalization by collecting consumer insights that are more sophisticated than just gender, such as “interests, lifestyles, and website behaviors,” (Lorincz, 2023).
Here are a few examples of how you can move away from gender-based stereotypes in marketing:
- Provide Relevant Product Recommendations
One way you can personalize your website without gendered recommendations is to provide product recommendations based on tangible interests and consumer data that are collected on the website. For example, a website can recommend products to a user based on the most popular product, products in the same category or a product that is complementary to the item they viewed, or products a user may like based on their answers in a conversational popup or survey (Lorincz, 2023).
- Encourage Users to Interact With Your Website
Encouraging consumers to interact with your website will provide you with more relevant information on an individual’s interests, thus giving marketers the capability to guide consumers in the right direction. Conversational popups, surveys, and quizzes are a great way to segment consumers “beyond gender stereotypes,” because they give opportunities to collect the data and interests of a user in a way that is non-invasive (Lorincz, 2023). Rather than relying on gender stereotypes, you can simply ask consumers exactly what they’re looking for and they can choose whether or not to answer (Lorincz, 2023).
- Provide Returning Visitors With a Tailored Customer Experience
Once a user has visited your website, you’re given all sorts of information on the consumer's interests. By collecting this information, marketers can then apply this data by providing returning visitors with a tailored customer experience with relevant product recommendations or showing them what products they last viewed (Lorincz, 2023).
Stereotypes can be extremely limiting for both consumers and marketers. Consumers no longer appreciate being boxed into gender stereotypes, which can also limit the additional traction a company may receive if they are not catering to all genders. By going beyond gender stereotypes, marketers can collect consumer insights that are more personalized and sophisticated, and therefore more effective.
If your business is looking to create a genuine and authentic campaign or digital marketing strategy, BlueTickSocial is here to help. Contact us today for a consultation that will help your brand grow its digital presence!
Photo by Magda Ehlers: https://www.pexels.com/photo/boy-and-girl-cutout-decals-1386336/