With the emergence of Gen Z, the so-called ‘common beliefs’ on gender norms are changing. The borderline between ‘male’ and ‘female’ blurs as the new generation calls for a gender-inclusive society. This change is urging brands to change the way they communicate messages and approach their audience.
Let’s unfold the modern point of view on gender neutrality, and how to integrate this belief into a brand’s marketing and communications campaign.
Modern perception of gender norms
Gender neutrality is not about targeting the LGBTQ+ community, it’s about approaching the gender concept in a less restrictive way: eliminate gender norms and allow people to express themselves freely without conforming to society’s expectations on feminism and masculinism. Gender neutrality has already created opportunities for new lines of products: unisex clothing, gender-neutral beauty products, re-written fairy tales where the female characters are empowered, etc.
For example, non-binary gender (or genderqueer) is the term depicting individuals who identify themselves as neither male nor female, and usually change their pronouns to they/them, instead of the common she/her or he/his to express their various identities within oneself. It has been adopted by famous figures such as Demi Lovato, Sam Smith, Janelle Monáe, Miley Cirus, and the list goes on. The rising popularity of this concept is proof that the world is heading toward a more inclusive future for all genders.
The new generation – Gen Z – believes that binary gender is now outdated. While Millennials already set the gender-neutral trend in place, Gen Zers push it even more. According to Pew Research‘s report, 35% of Gen-Zers know someone who uses “they/them” pronouns or adopt the non-binary lifestyle, which is the highest in comparison to Millennials (25%), Gen-Xers (16%), and Boomers (12%) said the same. Furthermore, 59% of Gen Zers believe online forms that ask about gender should have gender-neutral options available.
Gender-neutral trend’s influence on the PR & marketing industry
The trend signals to PR and marketing professionals that gender-based tactics are losing their favor among Millenials and Gen-Zers. Unnecessary gendered products will cause uproars and brands will carry the bad reputation of STEREOTYPING.
In 2018, Doritos developed a low-crunch version specifically for ladies after their research showed that women did not like to chew loudly in public. The news was met with backlash from the community for stereotyping women and implying that women should chew quietly in the presence of others, which is an outdated expectation upon females. The research might be true to a certain sophisticated group of ladies, but inconsiderate to women as a whole, and ignorant to the changing gender norms.
Similarly, modern women nowadays don’t want to be targeted exclusively for household products or reduced to a minimized consumer category. And men are also going against traditional concepts of masculinity (or even toxic masculinity, as shown in Gillette’s short film called ‘The Best A Man Can Get’) to take up new roles and hobbies that were previously deemed ‘girly’. More families are raising their children outside of the rigid gender roles of previous generations. As a result, gender-based targeting no longer guarantees that brands reach their target audience because their behaviors are mixing up and changing. Take Barbie for an example. Kids nowadays don’t want to have their toys conformed to gender norms: not every girl likes dolls, and there are boys who love to own a doll or two. So what did they do? The brand launched its first gender-neutral dolls in 2019 to embrace the gender-neutral generation.
Want to hear an even more extreme example? In today’s gender-inclusive world, targeting menstrual products for only women would leave out potential audience groups like transgender and non-binary people who still have their period. That is why many brands are taking initiative to include these groups: Procter & Gamble removed the Venus sign that symbolises females on their menstrual brand Always; Tampax tweeted their support for ‘people who bleed’. While the whole Tampax event sparked a heated debate on social media on the definition of ‘women’ and ‘people who bleed’, but there is no denying that the gender-neutral trend will continue to grow in the future.
Bottom line: Gender neutrality should be embraced from within the brand before reaching their consumers
Inclusive effort shouldn’t be commodity activism. Gillette met with praises for their ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ campaign and faced controversy as many people pointed out that they still put ‘pink-tax’ on products for women. Consumers are savvy and they can see deep inside the brand’s culture to tell if the brand is actually fighting for equality or is just putting on a show. Therefore, before marketing gender neutrality, the brand must integrate that gender neutrality into their team and work culture. Are you providing equal opportunities for all genders? Are you hiring people across the gender spectrum? Do you support gender equality in the workplace?
Taking the first steps is not easy. While younger generations are opening up to gender neutrality, most people still value traditional gender roles. Society will not change overnight; therefore, brands can expect to meet some degree of backlash during their gender-inclusive efforts. However, staying still and do nothing is not recommended. Brands should always stay alert to the ongoing trends to avoid future failure.
Hanh Le, Assistant to Managing Director at EloQ Communications, a leading PR and marketing agency in Vietnam. Hanh is supporting EloQ in connecting and maintaining relationships with partner agencies in Asia and other global PR networks to execute global projects, as well as to leverage service quality in the communications industry.