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Do we need to re-think gendered marketing?
Claire | August 15, 2012
New research has challenged the dominant thinking on how we market to men and women by claiming that both sexes find the portrayal of gender in advertising off-putting and even insulting.
A results of study in the US by a team at the University of Illinois suggests that a majority of men are put off by ‘negative portrayals’ of an ‘ideal masculinity’ frequently used in marketing, often feeling inadequate and vulnerable when confronted with depictions of athletic prowess, party lifestyles and promiscuity.
In the UK, meanwhile, advertising agency Creative Orchestra has concluded from surveys of the general public and marketing professionals that a vast majority (86 per cent) of marketing people do not grasp what appeals to female consumers, with common stereotypes of ‘feminine’ behaviour frequently seen in adverts considered patronizing my large numbers of women.
So, is this simply a case of the marketing industry having to do a re-think to polish up some tired gender stereotypes, or do such findings challenge the very concept that gendered marketing works?
Marketing textbooks and expert opinion can often seem unequivocal on the latter point – to market effectively, you must differentiate between audiences, and that includes targeting different products in different ways to the different sexes.
One (perhaps inevitable) consequence of this thinking is that it leads to rather lazy stereotyping, with advertisers resorting to simplistic man’s-man and girly-girl imagery to target the two sexes. At its worst, such tactics attract accusations of outright sexism, such as last year’s uber-macho campaign to sell Dr Pepper Ten as a diet drink for men. The brand’s Facebook site, which included a women-blocking app, soon descended into a battleground between the outraged and the titillated. It’s difficult to see how Dr Pepper’s brand could not have been damaged by the farce.
One argument often put forward by the marketing industry is that it simply reflects the attitudes and mores of society, and that if it didn’t, it wouldn’t sell anything. But it doesn’t take too much intellect or imagination to understand that cultural attitudes to gender are far more complicated and nuanced than men = sport, drinking, machines, women = shopping, chatting, make-up. If marketers really want to get under the skin of what makes men and women tick in different ways (if at all), they are going to have to become far more subtle.
In an interesting take on gendered marketing, charity Plan UK early this year erected a billboard in Oxford Street, London which, using facial recognition technology, displayed different content to male and female passers-by concerning technology. In a marketing double-take, the charity said the stunt was intended to demonstrate to the public how advertising often ‘favoured’ women, by showing female viewers emotive images instead of dry stats shown to men.
The point is, of course, the same as that raised by the two studies either side of the Atlantic – men and women are equally aware when they are being targeted by the tricks of gendered marketing, and neither are impressed if they feel they are being patronized or reduced to a dumbed-down stereotype.
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Photos courtesy of Free Digital Photos.
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