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Gender Diversity In Marketing Is An Important And Growing Consideration For Advertisers

June 12, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Shutterstock_1036935946 Woman with homosexual symbol and gay pride flag. LGTB Concept

Transgender, gender non-conforming and non-binary consumers are starting to factor into how advertisers’ market and target many of their products and services. This inclusive approach is particularly important for brands targeting Gen Z and Millennial consumers. For these generations, half believe society isn't accepting enough “of people who don’t identify as either a man or a woman,” according to Pew Research.

An article in MIT Sloan Management Review, “Marketing Beyond the Gender Binary,” reports, “Traditional Western views on gender — where people fit neatly into predefined concepts and behaviors of masculinity and femininity — are giving way to inclusivity that allows more individualized and authentic manifestations of gender beyond the binary models.”

Many brands have started incorporating gender-neutral approaches to their advertising campaigns and incorporating positive messaging about gender diversity throughout their marketing efforts. 

Billie Razors Doesn’t Shy Away From Real Talk About Women

One of the ways in which advertisers are changing how they talk about their products is by not assuming “women” represents a monolithic group that, for example, wants only pink razors or feels squeamish about the hair that grows on their bodies. Direct-to-consumer (DTC) subscription brand Billie is known for their directness, and its “Project Body Hair” marketing campaign encourages women to not be shy about what and where they shave, with accompanying pictures and a cheeky commercial that shows off hairy armpits and unplucked eyebrows. 

Photographer Ashley Armitage, who worked with Billie on a similarly body-positive campaign said “Body hair grows on people of all genders, and it doesn’t suddenly become ‘gross’ or ‘unhygienic’ when it is on a woman, trans woman or nonbinary individual. We wanted to show that body hair is a choice; shave it, wax it, grow it or do a bit of both. All are valid.” 

Billie’s bold action is backed by consumers, who increasingly want advertisers to represent evolving views and take the lead tearing down stereotypes and biases in advertising. “… Advertising is telling stories that are backed by billions of dollars to have them heard. I am convinced we can normalize gender equality with what we choose to show in our ads,” said Syl Saller, CMO of British beverage company Diageo.

P&G Supports Trans And Nonbinary Communities With Inclusive Advertising

Procter & Gamble (P&G) brand Gillette caused a stir last year with a commercial featuring a man teaching his transgender son how to shave. Although the commercial received some negative press, which is nothing new to Gillette, a brand that likes to shake things up, the commercial received positive feedback from the trans community. Outside of the trans community, some consumers said they would buy Gillette razors in support of Gillette’s socially responsible marketing campaign.

Recently, Always, another P&G brand, removed the Venus symbol from their sanitary products. The Venus symbol traditionally means female and therefore isn’t inclusive of non-binary or trans people who may still need sanitary products. The MIT article, examining the need to market beyond the gender binary, said “Marketers must revisit their product portfolio to assess its relevance to consumers’ shifting expectations,” which could mean redesigned packaging, reimagined marketing or shifted placement in stores and websites to make products more gender neutral. Target, for example, moved away from gender-based signs in their stores in 2015.

Coke Gives A Nod To Different Pronouns In Super Bowl Spot And Changes Diet Coke Design

In 2018, Coke released its “Wonder of Us” spot during the Super Bowl, using “them” as a singular pronoun, a preferred way to refer to people who are nonbinary. The Coke ad went on to say, “There’s a Coke for he and she and her and me and them. There’s a different Coke for all of us.” The Coke “Wonder of Us” commercial features people from all walks of life and across the gender spectrum, presenting an image of unity despite what makes us unique.

Coke also recently redesigned its Diet Coke cans to be more gender neutral. The heritage brand has seen an uplift in sales since the cans were rebranded, helping Coca-Coca rise 19% in value to $36.2 billion in 2019. 

Advertising That Relies On Data-Based Decisions Is Often More Relevant & Authentic

The MIT article notes, “As data proliferate, marketers grow intimate with every desire of their customers and acquire the behavioral and attitudinal insights to hypercustomize products, services and experiences.” Using data, or common sense (not all girls like pink), to create campaigns targeting non-binary and gender-diverse communities can lead to more authentic and effective campaigns. 

However, rolling out new “inclusive” campaigns without understanding who the audience is or their level of interest and engagement is less likely to reach intended targets and may feel hollow or turn off consumers. Even without mountains of data, taking small steps, like avoiding stereotypical roles for girls and boys in toy commercials, should be a priority across optimized, multichannel brand strategies that feel relevant to consumers across the gender spectrum.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Associate Content Manager, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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