Three recent examples show that marketers continue to get
gender-based targeting wrong. Honda recently
revealed a pink car with special window tinting to combat wrinkles.
Bic released Pens for Her, which were subsequently skewered by
Ellen DeGeneres and clever commenters on Amazon. And an amazing array of
Halloween costumes are themed for men and women, with the female
version being "slutty" or "sexy," everything from professional
themes such as "sexy police officer" to the more obscure themes
such as "sexy banana."
There are many theories as to why marketers continue to get
gender wrong. Pat Flynn -- a trustee professor of economics and
management at Bentley University and an expert on women and
business -- and her team would probably argue it's because of the
lack of women on corporate boards and the C-suite. Other scholars
would point to the patriarchal nature of capitalism.
I have another theory: ignorance.
First, marketers are constantly conflating the separate
constructs of sex, gender and sexuality. They assume female means
feminine means heterosexual or male means masculine means
heterosexual. They assume all women are feminine and would like a
pink car. They assume women's hands are daintier and would need an
anatomically correct pen, and they assume women want to dress up as
slutty versions of virtually anything for Halloween.
Second, marketers continue to drop gender stereotypes into ads
because they fail to see that these stereotypes are, by and large,
outdated and untrue (if they ever were true). While there are women
who prefer pink, and it has become the official color of breast
cancer, the NFL has since created more realistic jerseys for its
Third, marketers are ignorant about the diversity of preferences
among women because they have long used male and female as catchall
categories for segmentation. While fashion marketers have further
segmented the consumer using additional demographic categories,
such as age and income, other industries have not followed suit.
The automobile industry habitually misfires when it tries to use
sex as a demographic category, but does much better when it uses
lifestyle and social-class classifications.
The gender gap in the recent election, particularly among
unmarried women, demonstrates that marketers aren't the only ones
getting gender wrong. To stay relevant, marketers, along with
political parties, must learn to adapt to modern female
consumer/citizens, whose wants and needs reflect a new set of