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MBPT Spotlight: Study Advises Brands To Market Gender-Neutral—Or Risk Losing Gen Y and Gen Z Consumers

According to a new quarterly Cassandra Report released by The Intelligence Group, Gen Y (20-34) and Gen Z (teens) consumers consider conventional attitudes toward gender to be outdated, restrictive and even insulting. With those findings in mind, the report also offers up suggestions for advertisers who will be marketing their brands in an increasingly gender-neutral world.

The report is based on an online survey of 900 respondents nationally, age 14 to 34 that was conducted in July. The results paint a picture of a new generation of consumers who are not going to be reached with traditional advertising themes.

“Today’s younger generations express a preference for gender-neutral and unisex goods and experiences,” the report states. “They do not want society to tell them what men and women should do or buy; rather, they want to define items they purchase through their own unique use of them. Gen Ys and Zs demand that brands be inclusive in their products and messaging and as such they are driving a shift toward an increasingly gender-neutral world.”

Among the findings: (1) Almost 4 in 10 women prefer clothing or products that are made specifically for men; (2) 57% of respondents would rather shop in a unisex store than one that caters specifically to their gender; (3) Fewer than half of men and women prefer to buy products that are gender-specific; (4) 45% of men and 54% of women share products with members of the opposite gender in their households; and (5) nearly half of women and four out of 10 men say they are “cool with men wearing makeup.”

The report offers advice throughout to marketers on how these younger consumers view gender and how to best reach them with brand promotion. “When shopping for anything from bikes to body soap to glasses to beer, they’re looking for products and brands that appeal to them as a person, not as a gender stereotype,” the reports says. “Marketers, even those that have long relied on gender targeting, should consider enhancing or emphasizing the neutrality of their products to appeal to this growing mindset.”

The report cites newer fashion brands that are creating inclusive, unisex styles that appeal to both men and women. Among them are Veer, CharlieBoy, The Kooples and Creatures of Comfort. Kanye West is currently working with A.P.C. to design a new unisex collection. And even the kids brands are getting into it. Hasbro is planning a gender-neutral Easy-Bake Oven.

Beyond the gender-neutral consumers, there are also the gender-bending consumers who, in one example the report mentions, are targets for Tom Ford’s new line of makeup for men. Another example cited was children’s network The Hub, which recently premiered SheZow, an animated series starring an ordinary 12-year-old boy who finds a magic ring that transforms him into a female superhero.

“For marketers, it will become increasingly crucial to give consumers the freedom to push past gender boundaries and explore their identities,” the reports says. “Being a pioneer of gender-bending marketing could showcase a staid brand’s innovative spirit and openness to shifting norms.”

Don’t believe men are gender-bending? The report points out that according to the Craft & Hobby Association, 11% of the 14.7 million Americans who crochet are men, while the Craft & Yarn Council estimates that 2 million males in the U.S. are knitters. The report quotes a 21-year-old respondent named Leah: “Women wear boyfriend jeans and men wear skinny jeans. You can have a ‘bromance’ without being gay, and have a gay friend without feeling uncomfortable.”

Father Knows Best
The report also discusses how marketers should be trying to reach young fathers and it takes a shot at tactics some brands use. “Dads continue to be depicted in marketing and entertainment as dense, bumbling dopes, incapable of changing a diaper and generally clueless about how to navigate family life,” the report states, adding that this longstanding cliché can be hurtful to many men.

In the survey, 76% of male respondents said they’d rather be the best father than the best employee, because that’s what defines a real man today.

The report’s advice to marketers: “Address men as real people, as opposed to inept idiots who can’t take care of themselves or their kids for that matter, and acknowledge and champion their efforts to be better men, partners and dads. Brands can be a great source of advice to help the new dad navigate an unprecedented and potentially intimidating parenting landscape.”

And the report offers advice to marketers trying to reach single young men and women. “While most brands have not yet paid adequate attention to this newly important demographic, it is crucial that they cease the potential alienation of singles caused by only addressing couples and families.”

The report says more than one-third of singles 18 and older in the survey said they wished there were more products, services and ads targeted to singles. “Hence,” the report advises, “it is imperative that brands and marketers become more single inclusive.”

Toward that end, 31-year old respondent Marissa has some advice for marketers. “I feel like marketers assume that because I am single, I am constantly seeking a mate, when in fact, I am making the choice to be single,” she says. “I think that brands need to address that I have disposable income and am ready to spend it. I am the target market for splurge items and vacations and last-minute fun decisions. Travel, airlines and luxury brands are missing me in their marketing.”

The report offers the following “10 Takeaways for Marketers.”

1. Include Everyone In The Story Line: Brands take a risk when they consciously exclude one gender or the other from their marketing materials.

2. Consider a Gender Pivot: Brands that have traditionally targeted one gender should think about whether their existing products appeal to the opposite gender and what needs they might be able to meet for this new target group.

3. Defy Gender Stereotypes: Brands must make a conscious effort to defy convention in their marketing by abandoning the one-size-fits-all approach to gender targeting. Show men and women in nontraditional and unexpected roles and avoid any clichés that recall an outmoded gender dynamic.

4. Empower Them To Be Their Best: Brands must portray men and women at their best and most empowered in order to inspire their interest and earn their emotional and financial investment.

5. Reflect Their Multidimensionality: Feature individuals whose degree of masculinity and femininity vary, and be careful not to inadvertently validate any one approach to gender over another.

6. Consider Unisex Campaigns: A unisex marketing effort would, by default, open the door to a larger demographic, a boon to any product that could potentially appeal to all gender identities.

7. Look For Gender Opportunities To Meet Gender-Specific Needs: Brands should address unique gender characteristics only where a product warrants it on the condition that the targeted marketing effort is respectful and free of stereotypes.

8. Stay On Top Of the Issues Your Audience Is Invested In: Brands that have been demonstrative in their support of the issues Ys and Zs care about have reaped the benefits of positive word of mouth. Young consumers will only continue to reward and invest in those companies that know what they care about and speak directly to them.

9. Be Gender Inclusive Not Gender Restrictive: Marketers should avoid stereotypical colors and overtly feminine or masculine names in order to steer clear of seeming unnecessarily gender restrictive. Products that are in fact gender-targeted needn’t scream this fact with visual cues.

10. Think Neutral For The Next Generation: A sound bit of advice going forward—and the sum total of a strategy that includes enough thinking about—and acting on—points 1-9.