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THE RISE OF GENDER-NEUTRAL MARKETING 

13/04/2017  |  BY SARAH CARLIN

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According to a piece of recent research by The Innovation Group and JWT Intelligence, 38% of Gen Z respondents and 27% of millennial respondents “strongly agreed” that gender no longer defines a person as much as it used to.

Clothing and accessories can say a lot about a person, but there’s one thing many consumers increasingly don’t want them to make clear: their sex. The days of blue for a boy and pink for a girl are gone. These days, the buzzword is ‘gender neutral’, a way of breaking down the barriers between the sexes that recognises consumers as individuals first, and men and women second. 

Many of the major players globally are getting involved in this trend. Coca Cola recognised that both sexes could be ‘dudes’ or ‘divas’ in its collaboration with 7/11 and encouraged consumers to express themselves on social media (with a little help with a Coca Cola branded prop, natch).  Beauty giant Coty has swapped its cover girl for a  cover boy and Target and Toys ‘R’ Us have both removed gender-based signage from their stores. Even that bastion of femininity, Barbie has got in on the trend, with Mattel opting for a young boy with a lustrous mohawk as the subject of its promo for the eagerly awaiting Moschino Barbie. 

Clearly, a new trend is emerging. In some ways, this is just a natural extension of changing views about the importance of biological sex in shaping your personality and how you interact with the world.

Only 39% of Gen Zers said they always bought shoes geared specifically for their sex, and only 44% said they always bought clothes geared towards their sex.  And this demographic is increasingly living in a genderless world. 56% of GenZ and 43% of millenials say that someone they know uses gender neutral pronouns, such as “they”, “them” or “ze”.

Whether this is the natural evolution of the way we view gender or just the latest marketing trend, for now, it seems that gender neutral marketing is here to stay. So how can brands ensure they’re in tune with the zeitgeist?

TAKEAWAYS

1. Forget ‘for men’ and ‘for women’ style marketing. Nothing will make your brand look more stuffy and out of touch than trying to pigeonhole your product to suit one sex only, especially if there is really nothing sex-specific about it at all as Bic found out with their widely ridiculed ‘Bic for Her’.

2. Segmenting the market by sex has long been a mainstay of marketing strategies, but think about whether this actually makes long term sense. In marketing too heavily to men or women, you could risk alienating 50% of the population. Think carefully about whether your product really needs to be targeted in this way.

3. Think about your messaging and branding and take a good look at how your brand presents itself. Even if you don’t have “For Men” emblazoned at the top of your packaging or a colour palette made up of pinks and violets, there’s a chance there are other, more subtle indicators of what sex you think should be buying your product, even if it’s just a particularly ‘feminine’ typeset. Think about whether paring these down and replacing them with something more neutral could work for you. 

4. Analyse what your brand is already saying about sex and gender. Scantily-clad women selling products to men, women largely portrayed in the domestic sphere and exaggerated displays of machismo are all liable to alienate the Gen Z and Millennial generation. Re-think your messaging so that it shift products, without perpetuating damaging stereotypes.