Gender is viewed much differently in the current era than in years past. A socio-cultural construct, people are born into a sex, but gender is determined by the different behaviors associated with the male-female binary. We’ve heard of ‘girly-girls’ and ‘tomboys’: both are undeniably female but can take on different perceptions of gender.

Historically, People who didn’t exactly conform to societal gender norms were – and still are – subjected to verbal and physical violence, being outcast as the “other,” and given second-class citizen treatment. As time passes, paradigms shift. Some companies are now embracing gender neutral and transgender-focused marketing campaigns which would have once been completely taboo and isolating. With ‘gender-normative’ people still being the vast majority of consumers, why are some companies taking this step, and is it right for all businesses?

Should you Gender Your Marketing?

Non-gendered marketing certainly isn’t for every industry. As with any marketing plan, a company needs to carefully consider who their target audience is. Gender neutrality resonates much more with Millennials and Gen Z consumers than it may with Boomers and Gen X. Even further, it may be wise to gender your marketing should your product or service have different applications for men and women. It is important to note that gender is not a personality, and truthfully there isn’t that big of a difference between men and women consumers, so consider what effect gendering your product or service may have.

What does it mean to be Gender Neutral?

Being gender neutral means appealing to those interested without playing on those feminine or manly stereotypes. Creating a gender-neutral marketing campaign means knowing your audience and what may appeal to them. Being aware that girls aren’t the only ones wearing makeup was a great first step for the beauty industry, for example. You want to create the feeling of inclusion without pandering for those queer dollars.

I remember being very excited about being able to come up with my very first scientific study and put it to the test in my late elementary years. What was supposed to be an introduction to the scientific method really introduced me to inherit gender bias in toy commercials. It wasn’t that this went unnoticed before – cars racing around hot wheel tracks certainly appealed more to me than Polly Pocket dollhouses – but it wasn’t until I sat down with a pen and paper and tallied the number of commercials focused on either gender that I realized there was such a stark divide; however, this was during the peak of gendered toy marketing in the 1990’s.

Keeping it Non-Binary

An ad campaign can have great effect even if it doesn’t play to the ingrained sensibilities of consumers. A bikini-clad model atop a sports car may do something for the majority of a male audience, but is that really needed to market a hamburger? Make an effort to be inclusive of both sides of the pink/blue divide. Many traditionally gendered brands such as Barbie, Sephora, Louis Vuitton, and CoverGirl have used gender neutral marketing campaigns with great success.

Using your brand to be aware of the gendered issues your demographic faces is also a great way of being inclusive. Gillette did just this with their “The Best a Man Can Get” campaign that addressed toxic masculinity. While there was some backlash to this campaign, the response to the razor manufacturer was overwhelmingly positive from both sexes and a great business move. Who wouldn’t want to change some of the outdated, unhealthy standards instilled in boys? Not every man eats meat, is a car enthusiast, or even is attracted to women. Reinforcing these standards only serves to create an expectation of boys and starkly defines something that is not the same for everybody: manliness.

Be Inclusive but Effective

But most importantly, be kind. While belittling one sex could be fun for the other (i.e., the Homer Simpson effect (all husbands are dumb, beer-loving slobs), it can estrange a large part of your potential consumer base. You’re in the business of marketing, not sexism. This isn’t just offensive, it’s trashy. You and your brand are better than that.

Change takes effort, and we’re living in unprecedented socio-political times. It may take a while to get there, but inclusivity isn’t a passing fad. This blog isn’t meant to change your habits completely, but perhaps you will consider different perspectives when carefully crafting that next campaign.