Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. This is the epigram we all have come across in our life. Gender has turned out to be one of the most debated discussions, renegotiating across cultural, social, political and commercial realms. However, in this era of post-millennials, consumers are upbrought with increased tolerance for non-traditional gender identities. The traditional gender boundaries seem to be progressively getting blurred. Gender-neutral marketing, the present marketing gimmick, is on the verge of breaking the ice with the rise of Fem-vertising and death of Bro-marketing. Brands continuously craft gender ambiguous strategies that allow marketers to tune a voice that resonates with consumer’s entire lifestyle rather than being confined to just gender.
Discovering Differences: The Conventional Approach
The conventional ad industry served as means of both portraying and influencing the social norms and more. We still remember Nirma’s washing powder ad and other cleaning ads that have been communicating women to be good homemakers whereas razors and beer ads depict the bro code. From childhood, toy cars, cricket bats were marketed exclusively for boys on the other hand Barbies and kitchen sets were for girls.
Gender-specific marketing has proven to have built larger sales for brands who forayed into this in the past. For instance, there was an augmentation of 25% in Lego’s sales revenue after switching from standard Lego sets to more gendered sets like Lego Friends, exclusively for girls. Traditional ads hardly depict the fluid way in which an individual may it be a boy or girl, can both be strong and passive, beautiful and flawed at times. There have been cases like price discrimination for women care products with higher demand and willingness to pay heavy amount compared to the men’s counterpart.
Breaking Out of Shells
Gender today has transcended beyond diversity and inclusion. It is considered as a spectrum, rather than a simple binary. In a survey, it has been found that 82% of Gen Z believes that gender doesn’t define a person. They prefer to be different and exercise the freedom to purchase whatever complies with their attitude and personal identity. According to J. Walter Thomson Intelligence, 56% of U.S. Gen Zers recognize someone who prefers a gender-neutral pronoun. Brands, in order to cater to these needs, expand product horizons. Citing an example of any grocery or food market, it is mostly dominated by women whereas its logical to estimate that any food product marketed to one sex is only 50% of the estimated sales. With these increased visibilities of gender diversity, it has become mandatory to scrutinize the brand’s communications at every point of contact with the customer, including advertising and packaging.
Shifting of Narratives: Making it Happen, Making It Matter
To cater to these customization hungry generations, unisex fashion and androgynous fashion trends have always waxed and waned. The recent featuring of a little boy in Moschino Barbie ad campaign by Mattel has depicted that boys can also play with Barbie. This limited edition hit the shelves with the collection being sold in less than half an hour. May it be the announcement of the first-ever male model in makeup brand CoverGirl or starring of boy Jaden Smith in Louis Vuitton womenswear ad, both the ads explicitly showed that gender didn’t matter.
US Retailer Target has started marketing all varieties of toys to both boys and girls whereas, John Lewis has completed removed the labelling of gender in the children’s wear. Paris Fashion Week of Womenswear has also been acknowledged by gender-neutral designs. With such gender-bending options, the brands target the consumer’s personality. It is not only restricted to high fashion catwalk shows of Gucci, Louis Vuitton but also has entered the shelves of Zara’s Ungendered Collections and H&M Unisex collections. As per Cassandra gender Report, four out of ten women prefer clothing specifically designed for men.
Gone are the days when female perfumes would tease the nostrils with flowers grown on the edge of the woods and male fragrances would dive deeper into the forest with woody and musky odors. Not only the fashion industry but also the fragrance and perfume brands like DedCool, Calvin Klein and makeup brands like Jecca by Jessica Blackler, a part of L’Oreal Open Innovation Program, have ventured into the market. Cosmetic brand M.A.C has twice collaborated with model Stephanie Seymour’s sons, Harry and Peter Brant, for a collection of gender-neutral products, which included brow gels, lip stains and eyeshadows. According to the brothers, as makeup is women dominated, men feel embarrassed to buy it and questions its limitedness to one gender even when it enhances natural features. In addition to this, Maybelline announced Manny Gutierrez for their Big Shot Mascara launch, making him the first male to star in a major campaign for the company. Even in India, men’s grooming and fairness, which was once a blue ocean, has turned into a red ocean with many brands like Emami and Garnier redefining men’s beauty too as bold forms of self-expression.
Users’ preferences of a female voice like in Alexa and Siri, and male voices in authoritative roles, such as banking and insurance apps are widely accepted because it makes peoples more comfortable adopting and using it. To tackle such bias and stereotype for voice assisted products, VIRTUE, the creative agency by VICE Media, has developed the world’s first genderless AI voice assistant named ‘Q’ Using specific voice modulation software, the gender-neutral voice is aimed to be implemented not only in voice-assisted products but also as a voice for metro stations, games, theatres, and beyond.
As many of the brands have embraced the unisex trend, it’s now time for the brick-and-mortar stores to explore numerous ways for adaptation. Many girls often face the problem of changing rooms while buying men’s wear. Catering to this problem, brands like Abercrombie & Fitch have come out with Refresh Stores that have gender-neutral fitting rooms. Supplementing this, retailers like British department stores Selfridges have launched gender neutral pop-up ‘Agender’ with the removal of gendered merchandising like men’s and women’s mannequins. Countries like Finland have dedicated an entire floor to unisex fashion in departmental stores like Stockmann.
Innovate, Integrate And Motivate
Millennials and Generation Z have a positive affiliation to brands that are continuously endorsing the notion of Gender Fluidity. The well-known Coca-Cola ‘Dude and Diva’ Campaign has endorsed both the masculine and feminine sides of individual personalities, by manufacturing specially designed cans. The ‘Do it Together’ campaign by Italian brand Indesit has encouraged families to swap the roles they traditionally assume at the home. ‘ChallengeAccepted’ a campaign by Royal Challenge Sports Drink has questioned the conventional gender-based stereotypes in cricket with a mixed gender cricket match and bringing out uniformity with the men's game in terms of opportunities, salaries and fan support. Tata CLiQ’s recent ‘SheCLiQs’ campaign has been brought to break the stereotype about women not knowing much about technology. Adding to this, Ariel has come up with its unique ‘ShareTheLoad’ campaign depicting household equality and equal ownership of chores.
However, with the ongoing era of retail-apocalypse, sustaining the brick-and-mortar stores with the increased cost of designing, inventory and fitting issues is a major concern. Whether it’s a trend or it’s a profitable and positive deflection, is still a question for many brands.
Leading The Way
It’s always survival of the fittest. Either you adapt, or you lose the game. It’s time to get out of the rut of gender marketing and embrace gender-bending utopia by fitting the brand in consumer’s aspirations and pocket with blurred lines and progressive advertising. Understanding the raison d'être of gender-neutral marketing is the need of the hour. However, the gender-neutral market is still evolving with opportunities for new entrants. And for brands, identifying the similarities and celebrating the differences is the only option.