Headspace: New normal — shaking free from gender-based stereotypes
by Tenielle Maris. Although we’re seeing an ever-moving shift towards greater social liberalisation, many consumers today still face a number of obstacles that prevent them from embracing specific lifestyles. Gender discrimination remains one such obstacle that continues to pervade the way in which consumers view not only themselves but also the rest of society.
Marketers and advertisers are stepping back and taking real notice of new-age consumers yearning for empowerment — to break free from the shackles enforced on them by society and to celebrate their individuality. Brands that are embracing this global trend of empowerment are aiding consumers in their quest to redefine ‘normal’: by depicting women who are powerful and resilient, by portraying men who are more vulnerable and imperfect than their former macho and infallible selves, and by providing consumers with gender-neutral platforms to express their individual take on gender.
These brands are incorporating unisex dynamics into formerly gender-biased occasions and illustrating traditionally unconventional possibilities. From alcohol brands including more women in their advertising to cosmetic brands partnering with transgender ambassadors and leading fashion labels launching gender-neutral lines, the shift is happening at all levels and is fascinating to watch unfold.
Free from definition
According to a recent report by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), advertising shapes the way in which genders are expected to look and behave. More than ever, consumers are seeking out those brands that contribute towards society in positive ways and make the world a fairer place for all.
For brands wanting to connect with younger audiences, this is more important than ever before: 2018 reports are showing that more Gen Z consumers are increasingly rejecting traditional gender-based definitions as they grapple with the stereotypes attached to those labels. Times are changing fast. Younger and arguably more open-minded generations want forward-thinking brands, and brands had better adapt fast or, quite simply, cease to be relevant.
More than ‘femvertising’
“For women across the globe, rights, opportunities and freedom of expression differ enormously. But many women are becoming increasingly willing to challenge established gender stereotypes, speak out against oppression and demand products, services and campaigns that meet, can be tailored to, or reflect new aspirations and multi-faceted lifestyle needs.” —Trendwatching.com
We’ve seen female empowerment brands like Dove, Always and Barbie applying this insight to connect with audiences across the globe but, now, traditionally male-focused brands are having their say in a way that consumers can’t help but respond to: Johnnie Walker, the iconic ‘man’s brand’ has taken advocating for women a step further by incorporating Jane Walker on the packaging of some of its bottles, with the end goal to erect a monument in New York to honour American female role models.
- See also Fragments: Decoding semiotics — Marguerite Coetzee
Just when you think all the focus is on banishing female gender stereotypes, we are also seeing a new type of empowerment of men whom no longer want to be pressured and restricted by the age-old conventions of masculinity.
A 2017 study conducted by personal-care brand, Axe, with nonprofit group, Promundo, found that men who don’t fit into stereotypical norms are more likely to be unhappy. Based on Google Search data on the insecurities and fears of guys today, it found that over 50% of men feels pressure to behave a certain way to be a ‘real man’.
Axe then leveraged this insight through its campaign, Is it OK for guys?, that started a global conversation by highlighting the drastic effect that male stereotypes have on young men.
This year, the wave continues with startup shaving brand Harry’s campaign, A Man Like You, that poignantly addresses the issues around male mental health in a category dominated by macho advertising.
Where to from here?
The future of consumerism in 2018 and beyond comprises consumers who want brands that truly understand their evolving roles, and reflect their inner struggles with modern realities and progressive identities. As marketers and advertisers, we need to take a long, hard look at how we speak to audiences, and recognise the power that we have in perpetuating potentially harmful gender ideologies. We then need to harness our ability to empower individuals by embracing their changing realities and by rewriting our brands’ stories — carving out new spaces for audiences to celebrate who they really are, and not who we have told them to be.
Tenielle Maris is strategic director at TTL agency, 34°, in Johannesburg. Beginning her career in branding and communications, she has spent the last decade in the marketing industry where she has worked upon big brands spanning the African continent. Having found her passion in understanding what drives human beings to connect with particular brands, her time is spent getting up close and personal with the people whom brands are trying to connect with. Tenielle contributes the monthly “Headspace” column, which unpacks anything and everything that helps marketers and advertisers understand why people connect with brands, to MarkLives.com.
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