Picture: 123RF/STUDIOM1
Picture: 123RF/STUDIOM1

Advertising has traditionally illustrated men and women in fairly stereotypical roles. Think back to typically macho beer ads or cleaning products that try to appeal to women. However, for a surprising number of both Gen Z and millennials, gender doesn’t define them, according to research conducted by The Innovation Group and JWT Intelligence.

Gender-neutral marketing is not a trend but a societal shift, according to Dali Tembo and Jess Jorgensen, both from Instant Grass International. Speaking at the recent Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC) conference in Midrand, they said it was important for marketers to keep abreast of this shift. Even a term such as “trans” is not just last year but a couple of years behind, said Jorgensen. Instead, marketers should be considering using terms such as “gender queer”, “nonconforming”, “nonbinary” and “gender neutral”.

It’s no longer acceptable to be stuck in old gender stereotypes, explained Jorgensen, adding that many forward-thinking brands have already cottoned on to this. He said retailers such as the US Target group have ditched the pink and blue toy aisles in supermarkets, for instance, while a Barbie ad for the Moschino Barbie featured a boy. Even Woolworths featured a trans model in 2017.

The big take-out:

The recent IMC Conference in Midrand heard that marketers should re-think their brand messaging to ensure that it doesn’t perpetuate damaging gender stereotypes.

New approaches to gender fall into one of three categories, said Tembo. The first category, the rise of femvertising, champions feminine strength and empowers women. The second category is the death of what they call “bro marketing”. This occurs when stereotypically butch brand categories kill off their macho image and reflect the many different, atypical ways to be a man. The third category, what Instant Grass International call gender-neutralising marketing, is for campaigns which don’t just show that women can compete in the Iron Man marathon or that men can love kittens, but throw all gender assignations under the bus and re-imagining masculinity and femininity as fluid concepts.

Marketers should not get stuck in the “pink aisle” mentality, says Tembo, advising marketers and advertisers to question what is normal and whether their brand reinforces old stereotypes of what men and women should wear, say and do. Second, he suggests checking your messaging: does your brand communication perpetuate sexist or harmful stereotypes? Third, re-think your segmentation: are there ways that brands can embrace female consumers into previously male-dominated categories or brands? And last, beware of tokenism. “The idea is not to jump onto a bandwagon but to make sure that if you create a gender-friendly campaign, it is authentic, believable and inclusive,” he says.

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