Inherent femininity causes a minor affront to masculinity in a tale of product design, packing and marketing.
Let me begin with a picture:
The bit we’re interested in here is “% based on the GDA for an average UK woman”.
I’m demonstrably not a woman (and I don’t like to think of myself as ‘average’ in any case).
I am, however, a hungry man who, contrary to the stereotype of my gender, does keep a vague eye on the calories I’m consuming.
So you can imagine the minor affront to my masculinity on discovering that I’m arguably consuming female food.
(The stomach, however, wasn’t so affronted.)
Immediately, I started to question my food choice.
Was I really eating something designed for women?
Are women really that stereotypically interested in a low-calorie packet of rice?
Do women really value the convenience of sticking irradiating something for two minutes (then fluffing before serving) more than men?
Looking at ads for food leads me to conclude that women eat and men don’t. Here’s an example Youtube Playlist from the Schwartz Cooking Club (males are conspicuous by their absence).
There are very few adverts for male cooks out there. Providing females preside over virtually all of them. And, if they don’t, the poster child is someone like Jamie Oliver who tests well with women.
When it comes to food, perhaps I’m strange.
I didn’t purchase the rice because of any advertising. I purchased it because it’s quick, easy and something that I can eat at my desk with the minimum of fuss.
My choice is, as far as I know, a male one – near instant utility and gratification. (Roger Dooley and similar neuromarketing commentators would have a lot more to say on this).
And yet, now that I look more closely at the product, I can start to believe that this is, in fact, a female product.
But, in applying my male thinking in the purchase process, I’d never considered this.
I was hungry, I hunted, I gathered, I microwaved and fluffed what I thought of as a gender-neutral purchase vigorously with a fork.
End of. (Or so I thought)
So what does this mean for marketing and product design practice?
The obvious first conclusion is to know your audience and market to, and design for, them appropriately. That goes without saying.
But the second conclusion is more fundamental.
We’ve all got our preferred design options and marketing preferences which may be influenced subconsciously by not only our gender, but also our self-identification within that gender spectrum. Are we a ‘manly man’ or a ‘girly girl’ (to choose two diametrically opposed examples)? Or do we fall somewhere in between the two?
How often do we step outside the boundaries of our subconscious selection patterns to see things from ‘the other side’?
And, in the English speaking world with no linguistic gender markers, how do we start seeing our products if they’re not overtly female (panty liners) or male (hair loss prevention treatments)?
IF we start to experience our products – such as my lunch – as intrinsically masculine or feminine, would this change the way that we market them?
What would male rice look like? What would it taste like? Will it actually be male rice, or a male-version of something that’s female anyway?
In what ways does a female chair differ from a male one? Note – I’m not asking about chairs designed for females. I’m talking about chairs that are female. It’s a key difference.
Do other languages make life easier?
French chairs are female – une chaise.
German ones are male – der Stuhl.
Japanese is, as far as I know, like English and non-gender specific for such things.
So, no. Other languages don’t make life simpler.
Which leads me to suggest that generic objects (such as chairs) are intrinsically gender-neutral until a design fix is applied.
Which, in a roundabout way, brings me back to my female lunch (or the remaining grains thereof).
How would it change our practice as (English language) marketers, product or package designers if we weren’t creating for a gender-purchaser, but for a gender-identified object?
Perhaps one of my readers who grow up with a gender-identifying mother tongue would care to share their experiences of creating and marketing chairs for French men or German ladies.
IF we gender-assign our products before we go to market, how would this change our relationship to, and promotion of, them?
Should you have experience in this area, please comment below. I’m fascinated to hear what you have to say…
Neil Hopkins is a Marketing and Branding Theorist at heart, and a Marketing Communications Manager by day. His blog – interacter – is the primary location he shares insight and information relating to marketing, branding and advertising strategy.
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Image used under Creative Commons from late night movie’s Flickr Photostream