12 Dec Gender neutral marketing
The birth of gender neutral marketing. We live in a world where many of us claim to be ‘equals’ in terms of gender neutrality. However, a lot remains to be seen for the way both sexes are portrayed in the media. We all hear ‘jokes’ how men are useless at housework and women can’t read a map. We are also aware of what colours are socially acceptable to dress our children in once they are born.
But wait a minute. Let’s just strip back marketing right down to its simplest and most political format and consider ideology.
Marx claimed that everyone is affected by the media. The media is run by opinion leaders who influence the public to make them believe whatever suits them at the time.
From the birth of the Internet the world accepted that freewill, free speech and self-induced influence exists. I’m not suggesting we all move to the forest and shut ourselves off from the media. What I am saying is that it’s important to look at things from a subjective viewpoint and consider what it would be to break the boundaries of the ‘norm’.
As marketers ourselves, we spend our entire lives breaking down businesses results and analysing them. We use it to look at company culture and give them the best results we possibly can. So the question begs, what is gender neutral marketing? Does it actually exist? What makes a ‘masculine colour’? Is it dark hues of shades? why so? Is it because it makes them look rugged – like the alpha that apparently, every girl ‘deserves’? Or in fact, does a male wearing a softer colour make them more masculine because they are embracing their ‘feminine’ side?
Shouldn’t men be able to wear and appreciate whatever colour they want?
Pink is in fact named after a flower which previously was described as ‘roseus’ or ‘rosey.’ This simply means a lighter shade of red. Pink was traditionally worn by boys as men wore red. Boys are just younger versions of men and the pink colour of their ribbons and clothes reflected that. In the 1800’s boys wore white and dresses until they were 6 or 7, which was also the time of their first haircut.
It has been suggested that in the same way we want everything instantly in modern consumer culture, we also want to instantly define a person’s gender. A scary thought when you break it down in its most simple terms – instant sexualisation in marketing even from a tender age.
Girls were traditionally adorned in blue as it was a daintier colour, and yet after the First World War there was a massive lean in the opposite direction.
What is clear is that sexes have been defined by colour for centuries and this is still seen today. Note the breast cancer campaign – pink for femininity and women.
We live in an age where there are less ‘rules’ than ever to define what is acceptable. It is still important that as ambassadors and leaders in the marketing world, when we feed people information it can be taken from a subjective viewpoint and that it is fair and equal to all.
Should marketing to children be gender neutral?
A good case study: A few years ago Marks and Spencers announced they were making gender neutral marketing the norm. This was in response to criticism to the ‘Boy’s Stuff’ and ‘Little Miss Arty’ lines.
It caused a lot of discussion in our office because it seems to go much further than just marketing. Some of us have very strong opinions on the subject.
Opinion One (Sarah)
Good on M&S for modernizing their branding. Companies such as Kinder with their pink or blue eggs and stores who segregate their toys make me quite cross.
I have two children; both girls. One loves anything sparkly, sings songs from Tangled and won’t wear anything that doesn’t glitter. The other is often seen with a car in one hand and a dinosaur in the other. She pretends to be Spiderman and loves robots.
Due to my marketing background I understand better than most how marketing needs to be targeted but surely the example above is more than good enough to show you that gender-based marketing, especially for children, is absolutely not a good idea!
From the moment they are born we dress our boys as superheroes and girls in pink.
We then color code toys and their wrapping to fuel a boy to play sports and entice girl to nurture. So is it really any surprise to any of us when men dominate management roles and women more compassionate occupations?
As you can tell I believe it really does go much further than marketing for a particular sex. By presenting children with different messages we are saying that there is a vast difference in their gender and therefore interests; we are setting them up to expect different things from their future.
If you allow girls to play with dolls but not Superman, in my mind you are telling her that her only aim should be as a mother whereas the male child can be a strong hero who gets it all.
By the same token why stop your boys from playing with dolls? It’s very rewarding being a father and it’s a role that should be taken very seriously.
Ultimately children should be allowed to make their own choices on what they want to play with and adults should not influence that decision at all. Marketing needs to stop specifying gender in order to allow children to decide what they want and not what we tell them.
Opinion Two (Tom)
Marks and Spencers have spoken about their gender-specific campaigns due to complaints. However look at Diet Coke and Coke Zero and tell me if they are gender-neutral adverts?
One of the biggest drinks manufacturers are targeting women with one drink and men with anther and this has worked extremely well.
I agree that we shouldn’t assume that girls will want to play with dolls and boys not, however, I think it is extremely difficult to market a product in this way.
I believe that parents have a big part to play in this as marketing can only do so much as they are the role models children will look up to.
Children may see an item on TV and ask their parents for it, however generally the parents are the one to decide whether the child gets it. As such, should we not be pointing a finger at the parents when claims are made that gender stereotype marketing sets girls up to be mothers and boys to be champions?
What is your take on gender neutral marketing ? Please let us know.