Five Insights About Gender And Brands

Chris WrenSeptember 21, 20174984 min

Gender is a loaded topic. Increasingly, the traditional notions of gender are being challenged by progressive attitudes that gender is fluid. The implications could represent a fundamental change in the way marketers view audiences, since a cornerstone of demographic profiling usually includes whether a customer is a man or a woman. A new report from Havas called The Future is FeMale surveyed 12,000 people in 32 countries and their findings seem to indicate that all around the world, the lines between genders are becoming less important to most people.

“The media is raging with arguments about pay gaps, harassment, sexploitation, rape culture, mansplaining, and manspreading, not to mention gender fluidity, transgender equality, gender-neutral language, and the place of women in Silicon Valley,” says Marianne Hurstel, Global Chief Strategy Officer. “Even so, to echo the late Martin Luther King, Jr., we see a trend toward a future in which people will be judged by the content of their character rather than the makeup of their chromosomes. And that future may not be terribly far off.”

For some brands, that future is already here. Target made headlines when it was spotted labeling toys for boys and girls. About the same time, Mattel released a commercial featuring a boy playing with a Barbie doll, and while Mattel calls it a “fauxmercial” done exclusively for the limited-release Moschino Barbie, the speed of social media saw many media outlets showering Mattel with praise. This summer, a game for PlayStation called Pyre allowed players to create gender-neutral characters. CoverGirl featured its first male face in 58 years. And Louis Vuitton chose celebrity Jaden Smith as the face of its 2016 womenswear campaign.

According to Marian Salzman, Chairman Global Collective and Chief Executive for North America at Havas PR Havas Worldwide says, as reported by Campaign UK, the palpable frustration surrounding the rate of change when it comes to equality is shared by both genders who are collectively asking brands and society, ‘what is taking so long?’ Pointing to the successes of the United Nations HeForShe campaign, she believes tackling inequality is better served by inclusivity and explains, “People want real stories and a definite sex role is not a true story. Brands need to recognize it’s no longer about ‘grow up and act like a lady or be a man’ it’s about being true to yourself.”

Just recently, the UK took measures to ban gender stereotypes in ads. Critics of this move argued that strict guidelines would limit creativity and take humor out of the equation. Both advertisers and Hollywood get big laughs when they ramp up the contrast on common stereotypes. But that seems to be changing too.

Here are five insights from the Havas study that brands need to keep in mind.

1. It’s Not Just About Feminism. The modern definition of feminism often has negative connotations that make it seem women are trying to take power from men under the guise of equality. A key insight from this report is that you don’t have to identify as feminist to support women’s equality. The report concludes, “Brands can help pave the way to a more equitable future by shining a light on those areas most in need of change and by modeling within their own businesses and supply chains how best to empower and support people, regardless of gender.

2. Men Aren’t Always The Head Of The Household. While there is still great gender inequality among CEOs and government leaders, attitudes at home are changing. Campaigns like Cheerio’s “How To Dad” took some of the first steps in challenging traditional role definitions.

3. Not Everyone Agrees (To Say The Least). A third of men and nearly a quarter of women surveyed believe that feminism has done more harm than good. And with Facebook now offering 71 options for gender, some people are asking if this level of inclusivity is improving society or confusing it. Brands need to keep this in mind when developing strategies that cross into gender issues.

4. We’re All More Alike Than We Are Different. When presented a list of 25 traits and attributes and asked which ones apply to men, women or both equally, most traits had real overlap. While both sexes believed men were more mechanical and women were more nurturing, barely half believed parenting comes more naturally to women than men. “The more men and women study, work, play, and socialize on equal terms in a world increasingly leveled by technology, the more we perceive—as our survey shows—how similar many of our qualities, interests, and goals are,” says Hurstel. “And the more we recognize these commonalities, the more likely we will be to think that our gender is just one aspect of who we are.”

5. A Gender-Neutral Future Is Likely. Over half of women (52%) and 44% of men agree with the statement, “I do not believe in set genders: gender is fluid and everyone can be what they feel they are”. Also, more parents believe children should be raised in as gender neutral way as possible so as to avoid rigid gender restrictions.

While it may be tempting to latch onto the latest trendy virtue, the smarter brands will be sure their internal culture and organization provides evidence of inclusiveness before sharing their point of view with the world.

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