‘I think therefore I am’ – René Descartes’ iconic saying, it seems, may only be half true. If you choose to believe neuroscientists like António Damásio and Joseph E. LeDoux, then cognitive and emotional processes play a part in every rational decision. Even clicking the purchase button in an online shop is a decision that has been unconsciously influenced by emotional information. Or at least...
When it comes to gender, stereotypes are drilled into us from birth, leading us to form clichéd opinions, such as all men like cars and sports, while women like shopping and reality TV. These conventions permeate our collective consciousness and are mirrored back to us by the media, advertising, and the products we consume. The truth is, however, that these adages do often reflect our reality; there is a nugget of truth in each of these stereotypes, and this has not escaped the notice of advertisers, who have exploited these conventions in order to capitalise on them. It’s no coincidence that more car commercials are aired during football games, or that cosmetics commercials are played on repeat during ‘Britain’s Next Top Model’. This form of marketing, gender marketing, was established in the United States in the 1990s, and has since gained ground around the world. But what exactly is gender marketing and how does it work?
- What is gender marketing? A definition
- Gender-specific differences in consumer behaviour
How does gender marketing work?
- When gender marketing goes wrong: some bad examples
- Is gender marketing still useful today?
- The evolution of gender marketing: women drilling and men cooking
- Gender marketing in e-commerce
- The dangers of gender marketing
What is gender marketing? A definition
Gender has a very specific meaning, which differs to ‘sex’; when we refer to a person’s ‘sex’ we are speaking of their biological sex (i.e. male or female). This is strictly physiological, whereas the term ‘gender’ refers to a sociocultural construct. While a person’s biological sex is defined at birth, their gender is determined by the different gender roles and behavioural differences between men and women, which are strongly influenced by society and culture. Gender marketing is based on the various properties assigned to men and women, both physical characteristics and interests.
Behavioural and psychological differences between men and women are the central focus of gender studies. In addition to being a fascinating area of sociology or psychology, gender studies can produce interesting insights for marketing purposes. Many marketing strategies now use gender marketing techniques, tailoring advertising content and techniques to the different consumption and purchasing behaviour of the genders.
Gender-specific differences in consumer behaviour
From early childhood, it’s possible to observe the two sexes develop different preferences and behavioural patterns with long-established patterns, such as girls playing with dolls and boys opting for toy cars and building blocks. The toy industry has been exploiting this trend for decades, generating enormous profits by targeting girls and boys separately. But even in adulthood, most people never fully abandon ingrained gendered behaviour; for example, in personal grooming, it’s still far more common to associate floral and sweet scents with women, while products aimed at men tend to be more smoky or woody. Gender marketing uses these patterns in an attempt to establish the criteria that influence consumer behaviour and determine what leads people to making a purchase.
‘Pink it and shrink it’ – is gender marketing really that simple`?
A quick glance inside a toy shop or a makeup aisle quickly provides evidence that girls and women are supposed to like the colour pink. But gender marketing is more than just colour coding selected products; making something appear ‘girly’ is about far more than just colouring it pink. The concept is far more complex, requiring a specific, well-thought-out strategy. Psychological factors also play a decisive role. Gender marketing uses the findings of psychology and neuroscience to draw conclusions about women and men’s varying needs, interests, and preferences when it comes to purchasing behaviour.
How women and men shop
Naturally, everybody goes through a certain decision-making process before deciding to buy a product. The purchasing process can be divided into five phases:
1. Detemining a requirement
2. Conducting an overview of the market
3. Product comparison
4. Selecting a product
5. Purchasing the product
The following graphic shows the completely different way in which men and women experience this process:
Men tend to take a rather more linear path to their product, only going through each phase one time. They generally concentrate on their current requirements and therefore go through each individual stage successively. The consensus when it comes to men’s shopping habits is that they search for a good solution to their ‘problem’, i.e. finding the appropriate product for their needs.
A typically ‘masculine’ approach to purchasing involves creating a list of criteria that the product should meet. If he then finds a product that fulfills all these requirements while comparing alternative products on the market, he tends to choose this product, thereby ending the process.
As shown in the above graphic, women tend to go through a spiraling thought process when purchasing items, passing through individual decision phases several times. A typically ‘feminine’ approach is to find a perfect solution to their problem. A ‘feminine’ decision is usually determined by a detailed list of criteria, which can often change. A woman’s decision-making process is usually more complex and lengthier than that of men. Ultimately, the product must satisfy the woman’s requirements in as many ways as possible. Furthermore, if a woman finds a satisfactory product, they still won’t necessarily buy it straight away: 61% of women visit several stores before making a final decision about their purchase.
How does gender marketing work?
Gender marketing encompasses every aspect of sales, incorporating the gender-specific demands of consumers in the production process, distribution, as well as communications strategies. A successful marketing mix usually uses the following seven marketing tools: product (product policy), price (price policy), place (distribution policy), promotion (communication policy), personnel (personnel policy), process (equipment policy), and physical facilities.
Product, place, promotion, and personnel are particularly interesting factors when it comes to gender marketing, as advertisers can tailor these areas to the different demands and preferences of men and women. In the following, we explain how you can use gender marketing to advertise and sell your goods and services successfully.
Encompassing the entire process of designing a product, the product policy is the heart of any marketing campaign and influences all further stages in the marketing process. This initial stage in the development process is often crucial in deciding whether a product is successful.
From the outset, it’s integral for you as a company to consider the target group you want to address and the demands specific to individual consumers within this group. There are several factors to contemplate when selecting your target group, e.g. age group, social status, and lifestyle. It is during this stage that you should consider whether gender marketing is an appropriate method for you. Is your customer base made up of mostly men, women, or both? Do all members of your target audience require your product in the same way, or do their needs depend on their gender?
Gender marketing not only takes the physical uses of the product into account, but also the different associations that women and men have with regard to the product. Many (extremely successful) goods and service are marketed in completely different ways in order to appeal to men and women, although strictly speaking, both sexes could use them. Think of razors, for example; despite being essentially the same, they are designed and marketed differently for men and women.
Gillette is a particularly good example of a successful gender marketing campaign, with its separate products and campaign strategies for women and men. Not only do women’s razors differ to the men’s in their design; the products are even marketed with different advertising campaigns and separate websites. In doing this, the company emphasises the different advantages their razors have for their intended target groups. Men’s razors are usually presented as sporty and dynamic, with a prominent sports star often appearing in commercials and advertising campaigns. Meanwhile, the advertisements for the feminine counterpart emphasise the razor’s skin-enhancing properties, promoting shaving as part of a luxurious and indulgent skincare routine. The company has cleverly managed to create one product with two successful product lines, in which both the product design and marketing are adapted for the two sexes.
There are several other products that can be divided into gendered categories. Advertisers often develop entire product ranges separated into female and male interest areas. It’s therefore possible for marketers to develop gender-specific sales strategies. Here are some examples:
|Masculine product lines||Feminine product lines|
|Large or sporty cars with a focus on enjoyment||Smaller cars with a focus on functionality|
|Beer, spirits||Wine, champagne, low-calorie soft drinks|
|Electronics, technology||Consumer electronics|
|Men’s fashion, suits, ties||Women’s fashion, accessories|
|Shaving foam, aftershave||Cosmetics, perfume|
‘Place’ refers to the sales environment in which consumers go shopping. No matter whether they’re physically entering a store or browsing online shops, the sales environment plays a decisive role in making a purchase. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, your need to consider factors such as light conditions, storage and presentation, cleanliness, etc., while website owners have to create an appealing virtual environment. For this, you have to keep in mind factors such as web design, presentation, and informative content, as well as website navigation. But if you want to offer gender-specific products, what should you look out for when creating the sales environment?
Women prefer a cosy sales environment
It may be a cliché, but it’s certainly true in many cases: a large proportion of women enjoy shopping. The stereotype exists for a reason; sometimes women spend hours in a department store, completely forgetting why they originally went there. Even if they only wanted tights, they might see a dress in the shop window they want to try on, and then start to look for a pair of shoes to match. Perhaps then, on the way to the till, they notice the perfume counter and make a short detour. But to encourage this kind of splurging, business owners have to curate a pleasant sales atmosphere. This involves ensuring cleanliness, products presented in logical order, colourful displays, warm lighting conditions, and if possible, suitable mood lighting and music. This logic behind it is pretty simple: if the customer feels comfortable, they want to stay.
The physical proximity of the products plays a large role in creating a comfortable sales atmosphere. Studies in the psychological responses to spaces have shown that, to encourage women’s buying power, compatible or relevant products should be placed as closely together as possible.
Men just one want thing: to get what they need and get out of there!
In contrast to the feminine approach to shopping, the typically ‘masculine’ approach is far more utilitarian. The common conception is that men derive very little pleasure from shopping; they simply go to the shop to get something they need. The desired product should be easily accessible and the way to the till should be as short and convenient as possible. A homey sales atmosphere is not necessary. This straightforward purchasing process is influenced by the shopping behaviour associated with men, which is to buy the product and to leave the department store without any detours. For this reason, many hardware stores, for example, create a structured and simple sales environment without any frills.
The importance of regularly changing things up in e-commerce
Creating a gender-specific sales environment can drastically increase sales, and website operators have been quick to pick up on this trend. While of course, the sales techniques are different from traditional retail, the different needs of women and men are also important in the digital world. This applies not only to web design, which can be adapted to the genders, but also to the texts and product presentations. Research has shown that women tend to prefer static images, while men are able to better process videos about services or the product.
In accordance with their aim of making purchases quickly and efficiently, men prefer product descriptions that are brief and to the point, listing the product’s most important properties and, where possible, giving specific numbers, data, and facts. Women, on the other hand, are generally willing to read longer, more descriptive texts, because they tend to want to be as informed as much as possible about the range of products on offer. These should clarify the possible applications and the benefits of the advertised product as precisely as possible.
‘Promotion’ encompasses all internal and external communications methods used to advertise a product. These include, but are not limited to, television commercials, online communications carried out on social media platforms, and e-mail marketing, all of which, when correctly implemented, can potentially reach many new customers. One unique example of commercial e-mails is that, with sufficient user data, it’s possible to personalize and tailor the e-mails to the receiver, making them an ideal resource for gender marketing.
Companies also use TV and radio advertising to address men and women in different ways. For example, car advertisements geared towards men often emphasise ideals which are considered typically masculine. The vehicle is portrayed to highlights its speed and the sporty design. Ads aimed at men also frequently suggest a sense of freedom. When aimed at women, however, cars are usually presented as compact and practical. In this case, the manufacturers generally choose to emphasise storage space, low energy consumption, or the automobile’s usability.
‘Personnel’ includes all individuals who provide services to (potential) customers on behalf of a company. This area covers those who are actively involved in executing the sales, as well as those providing a service, such as taking care of dispatching, giving advice, or receiving customer complaints. Having professional personnel in all areas contributes significantly to customer loyalty. And in the context of gender marketing, staff members should be trained to take into account men and women’s different interests and requirements. This can lead to completely different sales pitches and drastically different exchanges between the salesperson and the consumer.
Women never just buy a dress
Among other traits, to be feminine is to be highly empathetic, meaning women have the ability to form emotional bonds with products, as well as with people. For women, the decision to purchase a product is influenced by many different criteria, not just the product itself. For this reason, it’s common for women to ask sales representatives a lot of questions, expect comprehensive answers, and become interested in aspects of the product that go beyond its own physical qualities. For example, in accordance with the typically ‘feminine’ approach to shopping, when a woman goes to buy a jumper, she won’t just be looking out for the quality of the fabric, but also whether the jumper will go with her other items of clothing. It’s imperative for sales personnel to take these factors into account and provide their customers with a comprehensive knowledge of their product range.
Men prefer to make decisions quickly
On the other hand, the masculine approach to decision making is structural, and they can be convinced by functional arguments. Relevant facts and figures are often more important than communication on a personal level. To ascertain whether a product can meet their specific needs, men will tend to ask direct, goal-oriented questions, before weighing up the pros and cons and subsequently deciding whether the product is suitable. The salesperson should therefore be well acquainted with the products to be able to answer subject-related questions efficiently and confidently. If men feel that their assistant is not technically competent, they might well feel tempted to buy their products somewhere else.
Is gender marketing still useful today?
Our notions of gender are constantly evolving, and as such, gender marketing is not an ideal solution in every sector. The most effective use of gender marketing is when the product has different applications for men and women. The fashion industry is a perfect example of this; the distinction between men and women’s clothing originally stems from the typical differences in size and height. But when it comes to aesthetic preferences, we again tend to see a striking disparity between the two sexes. A gender-specific marketing strategy is therefore extremely useful in the fashion industry. But what’s the deal in other areas – for example, in construction, and DIY, or the food industry?
The evolution of gender marketing: women drilling and men cooking
With our developing ideas of what it means to be a man or a woman, and with further progress between gender equality, we are seeing fewer and fewer people stick to traditional gender roles. Women are no longer restricted to striving for an existence as a housewife; they are increasingly prominent in the workplace and financially independent. Men’s lifestyles are also changing: An ever-increasing number of people are now living alone, meaning that traditionally gendered household tasks such as DIY and cooking are now being taken on by both sexes – something that would have been practically unthinkable 50 years ago. Therefore, if you want to develop an effective gender marketing strategy, you need to visualise the current social situation and the contemporary needs of both sexes. Recycling tired ideals and obsolete gender roles is irrelevant and irritating for consumers.
The Bosch study on women and DIY
A 2010 study carried out by the global tech company Bosch analysed trends with women and DIY. Throughout the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, 3000 women aged 20 and over were interviewed, with over 80% of the participants saying they do their own DIY, home improvement, and gardening – 35% regularly. The findings of this survey indicate that the home improvement and DIY industry can no longer be regarded as an exclusively masculine domain.
The study also reveals that women are far less concerned with the technical merits of a tool or appliance than they are about usability. For small projects like building furniture, for example, decoration, or hedge trimming, women just require a basic kind of implement that is effective while still being user-friendly. If the product also has an appealing design, this makes for an even more satisfying purchase. With these trends emerging, entrepreneurs in the construction and homeware sector are beginning to focus their products on the needs of their female customers.
Poor nutrition through effective gender marketing?
The fact that gender marketing can have a damaging effect on society is especially evident in the marketing of food. Although today the number of single people living alone has grown significantly, with women and men preparing their daily meals independently, advertising often promotes very backwards ideals. All too often advertising suggests that the role of the woman is to watch her weight or prepare healthy meals for the family, while the man is lazier, munching on unhealthy snacks and microwavable ready meals, or taking control of the barbecue. The stereotype that healthy eating is of no interest to men is frequently emphasised by advertising that associates women with keeping their weight and health in check and men with junk food.
The food industry, in particular, is full of damaging, thinly-veiled stereotypes. Male celebrities are often used to promote alcoholic beverages and unhealthy soft drinks (such as the comically hyper-masculine Coors Light campaigns starring movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme). Meanwhile, diet soft drink commercials disproportionately feature female models. Men drink beer, women choose wine, men eat too much junk, women are told to watch their weight, the list could go on forever. The surprising and dangerous thing is that despite the negative impact, the gender marketing construction of the food industry is a complete success. Attractive models can also be used to glamorise products in a way that is detrimental to the consumer. A good example of this is an advertising campaign by American fast food restaurant, Carl’s Jr’s 2015 advertising campaign featuring a group of scantily clad models. The over-sexualised advert’s objectifying portrayal of the women had a multi-faceted impact: the erotic aspect of the advertisement was supposed to attract men and women alike, on the basis that the models were either to be lusted after or admired. Using sex to sell products has an astounding impact – erotic images linger in the consumer’s mind for a long time, and the product associated with them does too.
Despite its overwhelming success, this marketing strategy of course encounters criticism. Nutritionists often argue that, from a health perspective, it would be better to promote healthy living to men and women equally. This could ultimately put an end to promoting unhealthy lifestyles to men and dangerous dieting to women.
When gender marketing goes wrong: some bad examples
Despite the dubious social consequences that gender marketing campaigns often cause, companies that use this type of marketing often enjoy a great deal of commercial success. However, there are also many times when this approach has come across as sexist and caused more harm than good. One such example of gender marketing gone wrong is Protein World’s now infamous ‘beach body ready’ campaign from 2015. Aimed primarily towards women, this campaign featured an attractive, toned model wearing a small bikini, alongside the caption, ‘Are you beach body ready?’ With the massive size of the billboards and the camera angle, the model looms over the viewer, dark shadows over her face making the already tall woman appear intimidating large.
With this campaign, the company, Protein World, has clearly attempted to target women. As many women are already conscious of nutrition (thanks, of course, to other gender marketing campaigns), the idea of marketing a protein powder range for women is not a bad idea, in principle. However, the heavy-handed use of such a body-shaming slogan, combined with the clearly sexist representation of the woman, (the model wears very little clothing and the camera focusses on her lower body, rather than her face) caused an angry response from outraged consumers. Although of course, the choice to use gender marketing is useful for highlighting the different results for men and women, this advertising campaign failed to connect with its audience. Unsurprisingly, displaying an idealised, airbrushed, and unrealistic image of a woman’s body alongside an insensitive and admonishing slogan sparked a nationwide backlash. This resulted in a PR nightmare for the company, with Protein World defending its advertisement on Twitter by insulting critics. Ultimately, the campaign was axed and the advert was banned in London. This gender marketing campaign proved that sex does not always sell.
Gender marketing in e-commerce
Gender marketing strategies have also been used successfully in e-commerce campaigns. Website owners often design their pages according to gender-specific criteria. Some companies – like Gillette, as previously mentioned – even promote their products on separate websites: one for men, and one for women.
Women shop online more often than men; reports have found that a significant proportion of women under 30 buy clothing online more than five times a year. This is partly because they are particularly suited to the typical buying behaviour of women, in that it’s particularly easy to compare different products online. Furthermore, with shipping and returns often free of charge, it’s easy to order products to your home without obligation. Online shopping takes away the stress, crowds, and time needed to go to a physical shop, making it far more convenient for women to spend their cash. Online entrepreneurs have also recognised this development and are now increasingly starting to adapt their online platforms to cater to the needs of their female customers.
The dangers of gender marketing
What used to belong to the masculine domain is now becoming relevant to women too – this is especially true of DIY and technical activities. In contrast, an increasing number of men now take on work that is traditionally associated with women, such as cooking, maintaining a household, and staying at home to raise children. This social change has also led to a shift in gender-specific interests. Successful gender marketing campaigns take note of these patterns and recognise and respond to changes in attitudes to promote sales.
Of course, using a gender-oriented marketing strategy is not always an advantage. Advertising in this way is not useful or relevant for every product – especially if the product is so simple that a distinction between men's and women's versions is unnecessary (this concerns many basic food products such as fruit and vegetables, as well as functional, everyday products such as copying paper, printer cartridges, etc.). In cases such as these, targeting the product towards a particular audience carries a risk of a decrease in sales. If a product is marketed as typically female or typically male, it can lose its appeal to the opposite sex. The use of too many gender stereotypes or a negative portrayal of these stereotypes can also lead to a backlash and potentially harm a company’s reputation. If consumers perceive the presentation of the product as too overwhelming or even offensive, they will dissociate themselves from it. Many products geared towards women have failed because the company has overdone its ‘girly’ advertising, and many products aimed at men have failed to sell because the advertising was too sexist.
Gender marketing is an incredibly complex field. As such, those who fail to grasp the different interests and needs of men and women risk missing the mark with their campaigns, thereby remaining unsuccessful. Therefore, as an advertiser, you must precisely analyse your target audience to determine which marketing strategy makes sense for your product. The use of gender marketing is most appropriate when the requirements of male and female consumers are very different from each other. If you are able to respond to these specific needs fully, you can expand your customer base considerably.