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Is Gendered Marketing Gone Forever? The Shift to Gender-Neutral Packaging

gendered marketing

Reading through the marketing industry’s definitive publications, one might think that gendered marketing is gone forever. In fact, it is a challenge to find any contemporary publications that content otherwise. To a wide swath of the marketing world, it’s a done deal.

Don’t get me wrong. As one of many marketing strategies in their toolbox, gender-neutral marketing can help a brand attract a wealth of new customer segments. And, it helps humanity as a whole see the world with new eyes. That’s a good thing.

From the strictly gendered 20th-century ads to McDonald’s’ Happy Meals, we still haven’t lost our ability to cling to gendered marketing. “Boy or girl toy?” the voice on the drive-through speaker still asks.

Gender-neutral marketing attempts to transcend those boundaries. Why can’t a man enjoy a fizzy bath enhanced with a lavender-scented bath bomb? The answer is, of course, “Why not?”

The Shift to Gender-Neutral Packaging

Twenty years ago, that lavender-scented bath bomb would probably come in a package adorned with lace and flowers. The font would likely be curvy, the cover image, a svelte, twenty-something female model immersed in bubbles.

Even though many toys, such as dolls and toy military paraphernalia, still bear gendered labels, many cosmetics makers have shifted their packaging to reflect a more gender-neutral point of view. As the American Marketing Association’s Katie Powers points out, gender-neutral packaging allows marketers to reach “potential consumers…who don’t conform to traditional gender roles or interests.” Such packaging also helps brands attract customers of varied gender identities, including trans and genderfluid people.

Today’s lavender bath bomb packaging will likely not just include the flowers themselves, replete with flowy cursive. It’s more likely that the manufacturer will use a minimalist font adorned by an image of the entire lavender plant, its green leaves a harbinger of the nature-sourced, eco-friendly product inside. That kind of packaging will sell to a broad spectrum of today’s customers of all gender identities.

As for descriptive copy on the label, take a hint from Hermes, the ultra-luxe fragrance house. Rather than using terms like “masculine” and “feminine,” describe the product itself. Research indicates that tacking a specific gender onto a label can alienate part of your customer base, especially with women.

When it comes to cosmetics labeling, words like “delicate” will appeal to traditional as well as trans women – as well as men who want to embrace their softer side. Terms like “bold” and “woodsy,” on the other hand, will still appeal to traditional and trans men, while leaving room to appeal to women who identify as “tomboys.”

Eschew Gender Differences in Shampoo Packaging and Emphasize Function

Although shampoo is a cosmetic item, its manufacturers have long ago shed most gendered labels. Here’s why.

Modern shampoos vary by hair type, not gender. As chemistry has evolved over the years, shampoo manufacturers have created a galaxy of products to conquer various hair challenges, from hair loss to taming nappy or frizzy hair to restoring health to broken ends.

Along with those scientific developments, gender differences in shampoo packaging were on their way out long before gender-blurring became a fad among the rest of the marketing world. It should stay that way.

Differentiating shampoos by their function is the best option since shoppers have long ditched the Breck Girls for something that will actually make their hair look like the images that once adorned shampoo bottles. Using words like “anti-frizz,” “volume-building,” and restorative prominently on the label will be much more likely to grab the attention of customers who need those products than gender-based labeling.

But Don’t Miss Out on Customers Who Prefer a Gendered Approach

While, in general, toning down gendered marketing is a savvy move, don’t forget about those customers who prefer a gendered approach. They’re not necessarily who you think they might be.

There are three people I think about when I read these anti-gendered marketing articles: Madison, Rita, and Jessica. Is there room for them, too, in your brand’s marketing strategy?

I met Madison, a Gen X lieutenant colonel in the US Army, at a reception for one of her fellow officers. Dressed in killer heels and a Barbie-worthy gown, she looked nothing like the kick-butt combat veteran she was – the one who took down an enemy soldier with her bare hands. When the mother of the honoree complimented her on her outfit, she blushed – yes, blushed – and said, “Sometimes, I just want to feel like a girl.”

Then there’s Rita. A trans woman assigned male at birth, this baby boomer has risen to great heights in her profession despite all the barriers she had to break through. When I see her out and about town, it’s not hard to tell that she revels in clothing, jewelry, and makeup that resonates with her feminine persona.

And Jessica. A Millennial hardcore feminist whose daily uniform is usually khaki, tweed, business suits, or frilly dresses — depending on the occasion. Most days, she hardly looks like the type that begged for all things pink and sparkly while growing up. However, that’s exactly what her mom, whom I know professionally, told me – a story that Jessica herself confirmed. It was precisely those gendered toys and clothes that led her to embrace womanliness in all its incarnations — including pink and khaki, sparkly and suede, and rustic and frilly.

Think Beyond Stereotypes to Embrace All Your Target Customers

These four women epitomize the dilemma marketers face. Sure, the trend has shifted toward gender-neutral marketing – perfect for most of the world. But what about the Madisons, Ritas, and Jessicas? What if, at some time in their lives, they needed something tangible to help them form their identity as women?

And what of their masculine counterparts – the trans man who rocks the macho look? What about the compassionate nurse that practices Krav Maga to nurture his inner warrior?

Marketing, like life, is rarely simple. What can simplify the process is to take a deep dive into your target customers’ data to get to know them. It could be that a mixed approach that targets specific campaigns to specific customer segments might be a better approach.

As Powers put it, marketers need to “mine for deeper insights about its audience.” Such a personalized, customer-based approach to marketing could transcend the fads of the day to emerge a more successful strategy in the long run.

Using customer personas allows marketers to formulate a strategy for all its target customers, not just that 60 percent who prefer non-gendered marketing. While labels need only to hint at qualities that might appeal to “traditional” gender roles, more targeted marketing, such as emails, digital ads, and print ads, could vary by audience segment.

Gender-neutral marketing – by itself – limits your reach, leaving out the traditionalists, as well as the Madisons, Ritas, and Jessicas. Combining it, though, with a marketing strategy that focuses on customer data can help your brand maximize its reach to all your target customers.

For labels that can help you transcend gender yet appeal to every target customer segment, the Nova Custom Printing design team can lend an expert hand. Get in touch with our helpful team today.




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