Battle of the Sexes

With the start of the school year now up and running, the BTS (Back to School) marketing comes to a close. Having extensive retail experience here at Antelope (and many of us parents ourselves), we know how getting the kids back to school is Big Business.

This year’s onslaught of BTS advertising isn’t anything new, but what has been marked this year is how wrong some of the larger organisations have got it when it comes to gender marketing.  While schools nationwide have been embracing the dilemmas of how to evolve their environments, policies and practices for those who do not identify with the traditional “male” or “female” label, some advertisers have failed to acknowledge this societal shift let alone move their campaigns forward.

Exhibit 1: Isa Academy in Exeter 

Firstly, we saw the young people at Isca Academy in Exeter rebel against their school’s policy of boys not being able to wear shorts in hot weather by wearing skirts. Brilliant PR, and brilliant nonsensical red tape that they stuck their two fingers up to the Establishment at.

Exhibit 2: Clarks

Clarks’ Dolly Babe and Leader shoe debacle. For those of you who have been away all Summer, a quick resume. Some great thought leader in Clarks felt it would be good to call the school shoe traditionally marketed at girls as 'Dolly Babe' and the traditional boy one as 'Leader'.  Social media and parents went wild and Clarks, rightly so, withdrew the Dolly Babe.  Interestingly enough the Leader remains available. There were two issues here – one was sexualising a shoe as Dolly Babe as if suggesting the wearer is aka Jodie Foster’s Iris in Taxi Driver – and secondly why market the shoe to one gender rather than another? Isn’t rough and tumbling sort of fun about the child than the gender? Shouldn’t the shoe be reflective of the activity the child is likely to do at school?

The gender debate goes far and wider than school related marketing of course. For years retailers have been producing Gift Guides “For Her”, “For Him”, with gender corny gifts within each sector.

Exhibit 3: Disney Princesses

The most recent insensitive gender piece of marketing that has exploded across the social media screens is that of mummy blogger Hayley McLean who writes Sparkles and Stretchmarks whose son, Noah, was initially refused a place on Disneyland’s Princess of a Day makeover. Was he deemed too disruptive? No. Was he deemed too little? No. He was a boy. And of course, boys can’t be princesses.  Disney saw the error of its ways and has since apologised and offered a place for the three year old.

What all of these cases highlight is not that many marketers can’t see the woods (their products) for the trees (their audiences). To me it is more about how we are evolving as a society and the parameters are changing and as marketers we need to reflect the world we live in.  

As our channels of communication change from print based to online, from Facebook to Snapchat, from text to photos and videos, so does the way we need to communicate to our audiences. Marcoms is about talking to our audience in a voice they understand, with a message they relate to, engaging them in conversation that is relevant to them.   Where all of the examples above failed are that they alienated, rather than engaged. They didn’t reflect the lifestyles of a proportion of their audiences or the language they spoke.  Instead of having a positive effect on their audiences, taking their customer from awareness, through consideration, to purchase and advocacy on their journey they took them from awareness, to anger and frustration, leading to them to take action to generate negative publicity for them and become an opponent rather than an advocate.  

The gender debate illustrates the point of how important communications are in your marketing strategy clearly. How essential it is to get your messaging and language right so that your customer journey continues down the right path rather than the adverse path from day one.


Photo credit with thanks: 

Alysa Bajenaru Phoenix, United States