Woolworths’ Valentine’s Day campaign. Picture: SUPPLIED
Woolworths’ Valentine’s Day campaign. Picture: SUPPLIED

The spotlight being placed on a "gender zeitgeist" by new market research could perhaps not have come at a more relevant time. Woolworths is still reeling from its Valentine’s Day campaign widely perceived to be gender offensive.

Woolworths’ official apology, after it quickly binned the campaign, was that it was a "light-hearted reference to the clichéd idiosyncrasies within so many relations, rather than any gender stereotyping".

But social media and customers have slammed the retailer. Two tweets summed up the outrage: "I’m a woman and I don’t think stereotyping vanity, dishonesty and eating disorders is romantic or cute"; and "Wow Woolworths SA! Are these sad stereotypes from the binary world the best you could do for Valentine’s Day? So weak, so disappointing."

The campaign featured messages, with the women’s section reading: "She orders a salad and then steals your chips; she takes forever to get ready; she snuggles you to the edge of the bed; she uses your razor to shave her legs; she makes you her Instagram husband; she says she’s fine when you know she’s not."

At the same time, a comprehensive piece of work by Kantar, home to some of the world’s leading research, data and insights brands, has come out with a study that is unprecedented in its findings.

Its advice — which offers a view of consumers from 5.5-million research respondents across 45 countries, from the way people live, shop, vote and tweet — gives a perspective on the evolving issue of gender marketing.

"Gender is a sensitive topic — one that society is currently renegotiating across social, cultural, political and commercial spheres," say the researchers, who monitor social media in 67 languages in 190 countries.

"Findings from this report deliver new insights into the role of gender in brand strategy, creative response and media targeting, thus empowering brands to flourish."

The report includes analysis of consumer responses to tens of thousands of brands, campaigns and ads, as well as a global survey of marketers.

Insights include: the current level of industry complacency around gender targeting issues; the value of progressive gender portrayals in campaign success; the characteristics of ads which appeal to women and men; how in-market campaign effectiveness varies by gender; and the role various media formats play in gender response.

"Men and women now lead and nurture at work and at home," the researchers say. "Whether running for office or running from sexual harassment and assault, gender pervades political realms.

"In business, gender has moved beyond inclusion and diversity initiatives. It is now the focus of customer experience initiatives and ad campaigns."

Kantar cautions that "the gender zeitgeist has overtaken many who are still operating like it’s 1999. In fact, some marketers seem to be avoiding the issue altogether, paralysed by the fear of getting it wrong."

Kantar raises questions like: does the average laundry detergent or chocolate brand or financial services supplier really need to take a stand for gender equality — and how important is addressing gender when it comes to brand growth?

The aim of this report is to show that empowered marketers can re-examine their understanding of gender — and flourish in doing so.