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The term gender marketing emerged years ago as result of fundamental consideration of markets from the point of view of women and male consumers. The fact that this approach requires more and more attention is confirmed by studies. In 2009, the Boston Consulting Group showed that 64 per cent of all private consumption and investment decisions were made by women worldwide.
Everything is divided: from sports equipment to soap, shampoos, shower gels and shaving creams. Often, companies share products whose purpose is not dependent on gender differences and which both sexes can freely use. With the help of marketing, manufacturers have found ways to refer to male or female even such seemingly gender-neutral things as bobs, chocolates, yogurts and ballpoint pens. There are deodorants “for real men” and beer “for yourself”. This method is called market segmentation. The theory states that the division of consumers into smaller groups has a positive impact on businesses. Separation of goods helps companies sell more and earn more, while people sometimes do not even notice that this is happening because, in large supermarkets, shelves with goods for women and men often stand in different departments. Buyers pay attention only to “their” part of the store and ignore what is not obvious to them.
To make a brand or product male or female, you need to achieve its strong association with a certain gender in the point of view of the consumer. In creating a male or female image of a product, companies try to make it attractive to stereotypical men or women and then promote and advertise the product strictly within the created image. It is assumed that men and women have fundamentally different lifestyles which affect how they decide to purchase. This behavior should be taken into account when creating, promoting and selling the goods. Thus, gender roles become an important economic factor.
Companies need to consider several key points. First, there are two main gender attributes: strength for men and tenderness for women. Of course, there is no guarantee that a product that takes into account only these characteristics will be successful in the gender market, but a product personifying male weakness or female rudeness will definitely face many problems. Secondly, traditional gender stereotypes, according to which, considers women is the one who manages the home, taking care of the family and the need to be feminine. Men should be strong, independent, decision-makers and able to support their families. But these stereotypes will help, only if the target audience lives according to traditional gender roles. A more liberal culture may take offense at such a division. The age and the social class have a strong influence on how the brand will be perceived by the consumer: the older the buyer, the more likely that he stands for traditional gender roles, and the working class is more inclined to divide everything into female and male categories than the average.
The dominant gender association of the product affects everything, from color, texture, pattern, shape to size and everything in between. The distinctive features of women’s products often have lighter colors, bright or pastel colors, floral patterns, smooth lines, rounded shape, light weight and smaller size. For men, everything is the opposite: dark colors, strict lines, square shapes, large, chopped fonts. These requirements must correspond to the product itself, its packaging and images used in advertising. Therefore, when the company Dove decided to enter the market of skin care products for men, it changed the color of its product packaging to gray and made the shape of a square soap to give it a more “manly” look. As a result, they attracted millions of customers in 30 countries and made a profit of $150,000,000 in the first year they launched.
A person already experiences gender marketing during the first week of his life. Once a child is born, to mark their gender, girls are often given pink ribbons, whereas boys are given blue ribbons. This pattern then follows them everywhere: if you go to a children’s clothing store, you will see that most of it will be in pink and blue tones. It is impossible to determine exactly when these colors have acquired modern gender significance. It can be traced in history that this gender association to pink and blue became popular in the early 20th century. In some countries, pink was considered the most suitable for boys, while some countries associate them with girls. Magazines and factories were arguing which color suited children best. Companies were defined by the 1950s: blue became a color for boys, and pink was already strongly associated with femininity but was not as widespread as it is now. In addition to clothes, household appliances and furniture were painted in these colors. From the beginning of the 1980s, pink ceased to be just an option for girls, and almost became the only choice. At the same time, the companies decided that by segregating the market by goods for boys and for girls and selling several versions of the same product, they would be able to earn more money.
Separation of children’s items is more prevalent than ever. Packages of toys and drawings on clothes literally scream about who they are meant for. Boys are offered beds in the form of racing cars, backpacks with superheroes, pistols while girls are offered pink dresses, rulers with princesses, ornaments, and dolls. Thanks to the division of children’s things into things for boys and girls, the world of the child begins to be clearly divided into one’s own and another’s. Violations of gender boundaries cause ridicule, misunderstanding, and rejection by others. Classmates will laugh at the boy who came to school with a briefcase with Barbie, and over the girl who put on sneakers with Spider-Man. By adulthood, people are so used to differences in consumption that they almost do not doubt their natural origin.
Initially, the designer of the toys, Lego, wanted to create a toy that is unisex. In the very first commercials, boys and girls happily played together, building houses, hotels, animals, people, cars and much more. In 2012, to attract girls to the game, the company released a new series of Lego catered specifically for girls. This series offers blocks in lilac, pink and other pastel tones to build a beach house, beauty salon, music studio, cottage area, cafe or a cruise boat. This move, criticized by many parents and public figures as widening the gulf between the sexes, nevertheless helped the company to increase global revenue by 25%, and girls who played Lego increased three times. The company produces about four times as many mini-figures as boys than girls. The set of blocks for little girls is very limited to what society dictates: shopping, visiting restaurants, and houses. Boys, on the other hand, are given different options: extinguish fires, fly by helicopters, build roads, save lives.
Through these toys, children from childhood are taught “socially accepted” norms of behavior and are imposed gender stereotypes. Parents are frustrated not only by the fact that Lego produces pink details, but what the company itself decides for the child, what he wants to create. The manufacturer pre-determines the choice, thereby reducing to zero the main advantage of Lego: the ability to build anything.
Gender marketing is by no means the only factor affecting the child’s perception of reality. Through the game, children learn and develop skills and preferences. Manufacturers, labeling toys as suitable only for girls or only for boys, thus limit children’s fantasy and their interests. It strongly shapes the way children view themselves and who they want to become. Separation of toys has rather harmful consequences, as it causes the child to become accustomed to stereotypical behavior. It’s not just that cars, weapons, and designers are meant for boys, and decorations and everything related to caring for the house and children are for girls. Toys for boys contribute to the development of competition, strength, managerial qualities, teach to be domineering and superior; toys for girls develop the ability to cooperate and care. These gender stereotypes acquired in childhood later become the cause of bias towards women engaged in traditionally masculine affairs and prevent men from taking a more active part in family life.
The toy market does not develop stereotype and create norms, but strengthens and supports socially constructed gender differences, and also fixes in the minds of children and parents what to play with a toy for the other sex is wrong. The problem is that there are practically no gender-neutral toys. Many parents are unhappy with the fact that manufacturers increasingly restrict imaginative play.
Of course, the problem cannot be solved in one day, and a change of several generations will be required before the market ceases to be divided into toys “for boys” and “for girls.” But you can start taking small steps in the right direction right now if you allow children to choose toys that they like. Do not limit their choice because the box says that the toy is not intended for their sex.
Why pay less when you can pay more
The market is divided not only for children. Manufacturers produce two identical products and, packing them in different boxes, get two different products, and the differences existing between them turn into differences in value. So L’Oreal can sell more shaving gels, Gillette — more razors, and Nestle — more chocolates. And the inscription “for men” or “for women” on the package allows companies to inflate the price. Shaving razors usually cost women twice as much as men, and men’s gels, shampoos, and deodorants can cost 10–25% more. Try the next time you go shopping, check out the “foreign” department of the store if you are not afraid of the prospect of washing with soap in gray packaging or you do not need a bottle of shampoo that reassures you that you are a man. It is likely that you will save a lot of money.
Market segmentation can have unpleasant consequences for the producers themselves if a product is strongly associated with one sex, the other sex refuses to buy it. Often the brand image is postponed in the subconscious as a symbol of gender identity. Moreover, men are upset when a brand that was purely masculine begins to produce products for women because they perceive it as a threat to their masculinity. Coke Zero was released only because the men refused to buy a diet coke, which was associated with women’s products. Women, more often than not, can calmly buy men’s products than men buying women’s products. The fact that a brand or product has a male image does not stop women. The reason for this, most likely, is the macho culture of most societies, in which the manifestation of masculine features by women is considered more socially acceptable than the demonstration of masculine qualities by men.
Often companies make mistakes, deciding that they will be able to attract buyers by applying a gender division where it has never been. In 2012, Bic released pens “for her”, and the women were surprised to find out that they had written using men’s pens all their lives. The manufacturer claims that the slim body of the “handles for beautiful smooth writing” is “perfect for a woman’s hand.” It looks like a pen in the same way, as usual, only it is pink or lilac in color and costs twice as much. The buyers criticized and rigidly ridiculed such a marketing move.
In some cases, in order for a new brand to “get on the floor,” it’s enough just to invent packaging, remove advertising and create sales promotion measures that match the gender role chosen because the buyer has no expectations. And for an existing brand, “changing the floor” can be much more difficult since the buyer is already accustomed to a certain image of the brand. For customers to respond positively to changes, there are two things to consider: first, their trust in the brand; and secondly, their willingness to change. Brand managers need to be extremely cautious, changing the company’s image, especially if it’s a brand with a history that previously produced products for men exclusively.
Recently it is becoming more difficult to “satisfy” the customers. First, consumers are tired of the standards imposed by advertising. Translating gender stereotypes that creates “real” strong, successful and independent persona of men and the weak, eternally striving for the ideal of beauty persona of women. It is becoming increasingly difficult to match these images. Secondly, the consumer is accustomed to diversity, so it becomes more difficult to please him. To attract a female audience, it is not enough just to release a pink color product.
The problem is that no one person is 100% courageous or feminine. Being in different situations, people can exhibit both male and female qualities. Masculinity and femininity are mobile, not permanent categories, especially since over the last 30–40 years, traditional gender roles have changed, and gender boundaries have expanded. What previously could only be male or female, can now be both.
Thus, the division of the market helps companies to better study and influence certain categories of consumers. Segmenting the market by gender, companies increase profits, earning on socially constructed differences between men and women. For many years, through marketing, the company has persuaded both children and adults that there are products for their gender and for the other, and our society seeks to hold on to the stereotypes to which they are accustomed. Perhaps, if you focus on choosing a purchase not for the person’s sex but for his interests and for the significant qualities of the product, you can, first, spend less money, and secondly, see that there are not so many real differences between the sexes, as we used to think.
While gender neutrality works well as an over-arching brand campaign, messaging to the customers are best personalized to ensure higher conversion rates. Besides, some industries will warrant subtle and tactical gender-based marketing campaigns to relate to the specific sex. This is especially true for the fashion industry, whereby brands often flip-flop between putting a specific gender as the main star as they shift between seasons and collections.
Indeed, gender marketing is a complex field. As such, those who fail to grasp the different needs of men and women risk missing the mark with their campaigns. When the requirements of male and female consumers are very different from each other, gender-based marketing becomes highly effective.
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