Marketing to Men & Women- Sea of Pinks and Blues

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on January 30, 2017

After decades of courting controversies about body image and stereotypes, Barbie finally got it right in 2015. Mattel's new campaign had a powerful message - that a girl can be anything she wants to be, and depicted the Barbie as a tool for young girls to express themselves. About the same time, Mattel achieved another milestone. For the first time in its history, a boy appeared in a Barbie advertisement. This article covers the various aspects of Marketing to Men & Women.

Gender equality is a cause championed by several brands, popularly in India by Titan Raga and Havells (the Winds of Change campaign). Amidst all this positivity, it is also interesting to look back at the stereotypes and standards that targeted marketing has set for so long, and in many way, continues to do so. One has to look no further that the plethora of pinks and blues that have for so long defined children's products.

Image: pixabay

Interestingly, it hasn’t always been the norm in marketing. In the June 1918 issue of Earshaw's Infants' Department(a trade publication), it was recommended that boys be dressed in pink which was a 'more decided and stronger colour' while girls be dressed in the more 'dainty and delicate' blue . Several cultural shifts have brought about the reversal, but over the years gender-wise market segmentation has gotten more and more pronounced, reinforcing the same stereotypes that brands are now trying to stand up against.

Global children's toy brand Lego used to have gender neutral ads for a long time in their marketing, branding their product as a fun toy for all children. However in December 2011, they released Lego Friends, a new line targeted towards girls, with a 'girly' house and beauty shop sets. It was an incredibly successful move, increasing their global revenues by 25% . Grooming products for women are also much more expensive than those for men, and mostly unjustified by any significant differences. For example, Nivea body washes for women are about 18% more expensive than those for men, with the company attributing the difference to "A Touch of Serenity", " Skin Sensation Technology" and the like, which strangely do not seem to make an appearance in the ingredients .

Over the years, advertisements have also repeatedly depicted imagery and messaging that we today associate naturally with men and women - the gentle, caring woman and the rugged man. These marketing initiatives are not always as overt as the 'Marlboro Man'. For example, when Dove released its men soap, it adopted grey packaging, blunted the curves of the soap and relabeled it to Dove +care. This led to over a 150 million dollars in sales, and millions of new customers for Unilever. Gendered marketing has trickled down to something as basic as tissues as well, with Kleenex operating a line of 'mansize' tissues, with similar packaging philosophy.

Psychology Today has a simple explanation for the price differences in seemingly similar products - women face more pressure to be well groomed, and hence are more willing to pay a higher price . Even as Consumer Reports plainly tell customers to avoid the packaging traps and just buy the cheapest products, marketers have used this behaviour extremely profitably. When we see brands supporting gender equality, it would also help to look more closely at their products to see if they are, perhaps unintentionally, doing just the opposite.


This article has been authored by Priyanka Y from IIM Bangalore

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