Australian brands just can’t get gender right – and consumers have noticed

On the eve of International Women’s Day in 2019, Australian brands are still disproportionately out of touch when it comes to gender, says Amy Fridlund.

Amy Fridlund 150 BWMarketing reflects culture, and Australia ranks 39th for gender parity, according to the 2018 Global Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum.

Albania, Costa Rica and Rwanda all rank higher for gender equality compared to Australia, based on of educational attainment, economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment and health and survival. Considering that Australia received an overall gender parity score of 0.730, where 1.00 is complete equality, it should come as no surprise that Australian marketing is due for an update, too.

Gender is a sensitive issue

Even in Australia, even in 2019. Norms are evolving and society, including marketers, struggle to engage with gender and grapple with what to do about it. Recent Kantar qualitative research findings suggest that many Australian marketers are in the dark, either denying that gender issues exist or confused as to what to do about them.

While initiatives such as the United Nation’s Unstereotype Alliance, the US Association of National Advertiser’s #SeeHer initiative, Global Citizen’s #SheIsEqual and ‘Free the Bid’ suggest a path towards the future, much of what brands must negotiate, is unchartered territory.

Many businesses avoid gender altogether due to a lack of clarity around the issues, unsure of the objectives, afraid of creating a PR nightmare and in need of a process. However, the #MeToo movement has created momentum, making gender an issue that the commercial sector can no longer avoid.

Kantar’s 2019 AdReaction ‘Getting Gender Right’ report shows that an average of 82% of marketers globally believe that they create gender-balanced content and advertising that avoids stereotypes. Unfortunately, 74% of consumers globally believe the way that they are portrayed is completely out of touch. Not only is business opinion at odds with consumer opinion, it’s not even close.

Related: Where is the love? Injecting emotion back into marketing – and doing it right »
emotion balls

Why should marketers care?

Kantar has analysed the value of gender to business. BrandZ analysis shows that the global cost to business of lost consumers for male-skewed brands is $5.4 billion per annum. In a changing world, maintaining the status quo will mean handing money to your competitors.

Statistics like these signal that perhaps we are not as progressive as we think we are – even here in Australia. The AdReaction 2019 report comprehensively details the gender inequities in targeting, creative portrayals, media placement and consumer response to advertising.

Compared to brands internationally, Australian brands skew male – 39% compared to 32% globally – with 30% skewing female in Australia compared to 35% globally. This indicates that not only do brands internationally have a male skew but that the Australian brand landscape and commercial sector is even more strongly distorted.

AdReaction report findings also show that paid media campaigns have less impact on women compared to men, despite receiving similar overall response. In other words, men and women like advertising equally, but it is potentially less effective with women.

What’s going on?

International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March is the perfect time for businesses to reflect on what they can do better to serve customers of all genders. While Australian businesses are increasingly accountable in terms of internal gender culture and employee pay parity, how businesses treat their customers is less mandated.

As much as marketing reflects culture, it also creates it. Perhaps, a ‘cultural correction’ towards a better balance is overdue.

Celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, IWD also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. The 2019 IWD theme is ‘Better for Balance’. Evidence suggests that societies with more progressive gender balance are more prosperous and peaceful. It is not just a personal issue, it is a societal issue – one encompassing people, politics, government and commerce.

Companies in Australia have the opportunity to change how they do business, to better serve customers and mould society along with it. Room for improvement exists in how brands and businesses address the most basic of segmentations. Although men and women are mostly the same, we differ in some subtle ways. Better meeting gender needs is about making many small changes, across brand touch points, based on informed insights which together add up to a difference – and that results in brand preference.

What’s the alternative?

What happens when brands don’t address consumer needs across the gender spectrum? What happens when market research fails to deliver consumer gender insights? What eventuates when designers don’t think to develop an innovative product that meets feminine needs? What results when a brand fails to design the customer experience in consideration of both masculine and feminine ways of interacting? What is the impact when marketing doesn’t promote a product or service in ways that engage with points of view across the gender spectrum?

Nothing.

Nothing happens. Few people will complain and social media will only capture the glaringly obvious sexism. Consumers often aren’t consciously aware of what they don’t like and even less often are they able or willing to articulate it. But the subtlety of gender needs and the stickiness of status quo mask the importance of change to brand competitiveness. Our data shows that brands that do not meet feminine needs pay the price in the bottom line.

Acknowledging differing gender needs can seem sexist, in itself. The prevailing attitude of business has heretofore been ‘better to just ignore it and hope nobody notices’.

But with gender equality at the forefront of the global cultural discussion, brands will need to find a better balance of address gender needs or be left behind by the competition.

Amy Fridlund is global content creation lead at Kantar

 

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Image credit:Kelly Searle