The London Toy Fair opens its doors tomorrow with many exhibitors looking forward to meeting their customers in person for the first time in several years. Toys are a reflection of culture and as the world continues to promote inclusivity, we expect to see more brands incorporating gender-neutral messaging into their marketing campaigns this year.
Brands reflect and shape social norms, and gender has historically been viewed as a binary construct. Marketing has traditionally utilised the pink and blue divide to target consumers based on the premise that gender determines what product an individual chooses to purchase.
Gender fluidity is a concept that is gaining mainstream recognition and influence, especially among younger people. Since Gen Z are becoming more aware of their own generational identity, they are increasingly rejecting the notion of conforming to binary assumptions. Almost ten percent of male Gen Z consumers describe themselves as “very” or “somewhat feminine”, compared to an average of 2% of men in prior generations (1). The results indicate that ideas of masculinity and femininity are losing their exclusive attachment to what is considered male and female. Gen Zers are also much more likely than older generations to say they know someone who prefers to use gender-neutral pronouns, according to Pew Research (2).
Younger generations aren’t the only ones opting for gender-neutral marketing. The Fawcett Society set up an 18-month commission into the effects of gender stereotyping in early childhood (3) and parental surveys reveal that four out of ten parents prefer toys that are gender-neutral and suitable for all children. This number significantly outpaces the two in ten who say they prefer toys labelled boy or girl.
Narrow gender roles restrict possibilities
A Kantar report titled “Getting Gender Right” shows that 45% of consumers think the ways men and women are portrayed in advertising are out-of-date (4). The use of stereotypical representations of boys and girls in gender marketing can be problematic. It can serve to define what is acceptable and what is inappropriate for boys and girls, and how they should behave. Such representations portray the limits of gender, conveying a narrow sense of what is gender appropriate, and those who do not conform to such representations are excluded from the ‘norm’. For transgender and gender-nonconforming consumers, the effects of binary marketing can put them in situations where they feel the need to suppress their identity. This is supported by findings from Kantar that nearly half of LGBTQ+ consumers report they are often in situations where they feel they need to suppress how they express their identity (5).
Brands should be mirroring and representing this shift to stay with the times
Due to this, the effectiveness of gendered marketing is changing, as modern consumers, especially those of younger generations, are embracing the fluidity of gender and the idea that we don’t have to identify and express ourselves according to gender norms. Consumers’ preferences are shifting, leading to the possibility that brands that market to gender could be isolating large parts of their audience by not including them in the story of a product, even if it aligns with their interests. For brands to avoid alienating potential consumers, their marketing tactics should target children in a non-gender specific way by emphasising the purpose of a product rather than who it is intended for.