By Iza Grek
Gender fluidity is the new normal and marketers need to take note.
“In a world where inclusivity is valued by Millennials and Gen Z, it’s important for brands to be considerate of how culture is shifting and changing today and into the future,” says Thabang Leshilo, senior consultant of brand and cultural strategy at Kantar Consulting.
“Advertising has been gender-specific for decades,” says Kyle Harker, communication activist and business unit director at full-service marketing agency, Hero Strategic Marketing. “In 2019, the way we market has to shift from cleaning products aimed at women and cars at men to where we are representative of society where communication, businesses and the way we view each other is not through a lens that is gender biased.”
Demographics are not the only common denominator for engagement. “Today it’s all about like-mindedness and shared values through which people choose to connect and live their lives. Brands should appeal to mindsets and values over gender; this way they don’t alienate anyone or perpetuate stereotypes, but rather open themselves up to a whole new world of consumers – leaving behind the constraining views of gender-based targeting,” Leshilo adds.
There’s definitely a price to pay for inappropriate gender stereotyping. Says Harker, “Not only is it lazy marketing to create stereotypical marketing campaigns, but they are damaging to the business (as well as agency) from a brand and credibility perspective. In the end, stereotypical campaigns do not reflect the real world where the roles and lives of men and women have become increasingly blurred, and ultimately a consumer buys into a brand they believe understands them as an individual and not as a statistic.”
Leshilo adds that the advent of social media gave rise to a very vocal consumer who is unafraid to speak up and challenge what brands do and say. “By not embracing this dynamic and authentic expression of what it means to be a human being in our society today, you not only lose relevance with a new generation, but damage your brand’s reputation and image as you continue to perpetuate an on-going social issue,” she says. Thus, an erosion of your brand’s equity and value in the market.”
Harker agrees. “Keeping this gender stereotypical approach will ultimately affect the bottom line of their business, as they will be isolating their consumer base and alienating segments of a market that could be potential customers.”
A point of emphasis is the role of the media: “Given how much power and influence the media has had on society in the past, people expect brands to be responsible and play a more active role in challenging and changing the status quo on how gender is portrayed through advertising,” Leshilo says.
The World Federation of Advertisers talks about ‘how to unstereotype ads’ and the question “Do marketers need strategic guidelines to get this right?” applies.
Leshilo believes marketers do need guidelines as well as an open mind to get this right. “These guidelines need to be informed and defined by a deep understanding of the cultural context and mindset of the people who consume your brand, to avoid assumptions and stereotypes made purely based on conventional views of gender.
“All marketing, including research and segmentation models, should be relooked and designed with a more inclusive mindset beyond the traditional notions of gender,” she asserts.
Harker says more self-awareness is required about the message that is being portrayed. “In my experience, having a culturally and gender diverse team allows for campaigns to be viewed from all perspectives. Real world opinions and perspective cannot be replaced with rules, it’s up to the brands and agencies to immerse themselves to be able to effectively communicate.”
Leshilo says, “Gender fluidity is real and it’s becoming the norm. I believe that it’s only a natural progression of our society and it’s here to stay.
“Gen Z, who have grown up in a hyper-connected world with unlimited access to information and diverse global influences, are the most empowered and self-liberated generation yet,” she comments.
“They may very well be the first truly free and openly gender-fluid generation who embrace gender and sexual orientation with an open mind and without judgement; and they will continue to influence and shape our world and our cultural narrative with new perspectives now and into the future.”
Jason Stein, founder and former CEO of social media agency, Laundry Service, says, “You still have to be authentic to what your brand is and who your brand is.”
Kelvin Claveria writes in his article ‘Ungendered: Why forward-thinking marketers are embracing gender fluidity’, “In the end, the emergence of gender-bending advertising campaigns is a reminder that brands need to invest in getting to know this post-Millennial generation.”
Leshilo remarks that as we move towards a gender-neutral society, “many brands have embarked on this journey by taking a stance against the social issue of gender stereotyping as a first step.
“I believe Gillette has been successful in having a bold point of view on the issue of male toxicity, which is often rooted in old ideas about gender, by directly addressing it through their latest campaign. Audi’s ‘Untaggable’ campaign showcased how powerful and dynamic women can be beyond the typical stereotypes placed on them.”
No ‘woke washing’ allowed Commenting on other gender-relevant campaigns, Leshilo says, “Through its #smashthelabel campaign, the Castle Lager brand has taken a bold stance against all stereotyping, with communication that is inclusive of all genders and sexual orientations, a first in the highly conservative world of South Africa with a traditionally male beer drinking market.
Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty fully embraces a gender-neutral brand image through its communication and choice of influencers of all genders and sexual orientation.
“As the first movers have been at the forefront of this cultural zeitgeist – leading the conversation and igniting a movement – through bold actions and points of view; the next wave of brands/more brands should simply embrace gender-neutrality as the norm or they may risk a backlash from consumers and lose all credibility if they find their efforts to be insincere and just another attempt at ‘woke washing’. It’s all about timing and authenticity!”