It was a Thursday afternoon. I sat in a meeting room full of strategists. A client fidgeted in his chair as he complained women had no interest in buying his product. Their only involvement with his brand was approving their husbands’ funds to make a purchase. For me, something about this didn’t sit right.
This client’s market would stereotypically be typecast as a “man’s brand”. While the numbers pointed to a vastly male client base, I questioned whether this might be because women don’t want to buy from brands appearing to use ‘wife’ as a synonym for ‘woman’.
As I drove home that evening, reflecting on what I’d heard, a shiny black mass appeared in the corner of my eye. A Ducati Panigale accelerated forward. As the monster sped up beside me, I notice a gloved hand digging around in one of the latest Gucci Dionysus handbags (a women’ handbag retailing for NZD $5,300). I sped up to see what figure was behind the visor. A young woman, no more than 40, wearing MAC’s Ruby Woo.
I hoped my client was heading home in the same direction as me.
For women in New Zealand things aren’t changing. They’ve changed. It’s not that they have more money, more independence and more autonomy than before. It’s that they have money, independence and autonomy. Women aren’t a factor to be considered along the customer journey. Women are the customer.
Traditional marketing has long targeted women as the key decision-maker in the home. However, they’re usually relegated to nappies, detergents and ‘luminous spheres’. Maybe muesli bars if they’re lucky. There was no little girl saying “Maaaaaate, you’re dreamin’,” in Mitre 10’s infamous DIY ad.
This is also true of higher ticket items, such as luxury cars. We often see the depiction of a man, strong and handsome, behind the wheel. The veins popping out of his arms as he enters a corner wrapping around a hillside. This begs the question, why is all the good stuff marketed to men? It no longer makes sense. In fact, it’s never made sense.
On the flip side, in the early 2000s, heterosexual men who favored European jeans, wine bars and a decent face cream – the stereotypical calling cards of women and gay men – sparked a marketing frenzy. They became known as ‘metrosexuals’. Today the idea of straight men mining gay iconography for style cues (to attract women, no less) reeks of an attempt to rationalise shifts in gender dynamics. From macho to metro, categories of maleness aren’t quite so straightforward anymore.
Despite this, many brands, and entire industries, continue to adhere to stale and used-to-death ideas of what makes men and women tick. The sexes are treated as vastly different, as if men really are from Mars and women from Venus.
As strategists, we must question what role we play in securing a legacy for cultural norms that don’t reflect reality.
Addressing stereotypes and readjusting imbalances in many brands’ marketing approaches isn’t rocket science. The solution is not to think about a target audience in terms of gender, but instead determine the personality and attributes of the person who subscribes to the type of lifestyle the brand represents. It’s about selling pieces of an ideal life to whoever wants to be part of it.
Extracting gender bias from a brand, and the marketing of it, means broader appeal and more potential consumers. This is achieved by disassociating gender from the masculine and the feminine. While masculinity can still reference strength, ambition and dominance, stripping away its ‘maleness’ creates brands which resonate with whoever identifies with these characteristics. In the same way the softer, calmer and more emotive nature of femininity appeals more widely, when a distinctly female look and feel is quietened. Even better is when elements of both are combined to create a playfulness not confined to the boundaries of stereotypical notions of gender.
Redefining an overly female category is Aesop, an Australian skincare brand, who have mastered genderlessness. From heterosexual to homosexual to everything in between, when wandering the streets of Melbourne you can almost hear couples arguing about who gets the sacred last drop of beloved Aesop moisturiser. Aesop have curated a thoughtful language of indulgence and modernism paired with an androgynous and minimalist aesthetic, wildly different from anyone in their category. The result, consistently stellar growth with revenue up nearly 35% in 2018.
We’re living in a time of fluidity and openness. Gender roles are evaporating faster than a conversative can say “heathen”. Our variety of choice is boiling over. Regardless of personal stance on the matter, it’s time to wake up and smell the gender neutral roses.
As the young woman sped ahead in her Ducati, I pulled into my driveway. Power tools covered the deck. My flatmate, Kristine, had been repurposing a bench all afternoon. Her husband, Mark, was inside doing yoga. I parked up in the garage, next to their ‘his and hers’ Kawasaki Ninjas.