Marketers: You've Got to Understand Gender Roles

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Marketers: You've Got to Understand Gender Roles
Marketers: You've Got to Understand Gender Roles

A February Ad Age article unearthed an old statistic that 80% of purchasers are women, yet only 3% of all creative directors are women. Many think this contributes to the seemingly huge gap in marketing relevance and effectiveness today.

The truly compelling part of the article centered on the role of the oft-ignored male purchaser. Consumers' lifestyles are always evolving, and as marketers our strategies to connect with them should too. Women balance work and home; it makes sense that men do the same. I've seen this shift in my own circle: Many husbands are either stay-at-home dads or incredibly active in helping at home. Whether it's shopping, diaper duty, or cleaning, they play an integral role in household operations.

Click on the infographic below to enlarge.

Outside my experience, statistics show a larger sea change. This may be economically driven (more men than women are unemployed at 8.9% versus 8%, according to IDDBA, What's in Store 2012), but dads are playing stronger roles at home. With celebrity guys hosting popular cooking, DIY, decorating, and landscaping shows, perhaps the stigma around “male domesticity” is changing. And millennial men, a growing purchasing group, are especially comfortable shopping. Millennials are all about self-expression, and 38% of millennial men see fashion and grooming as a means to self-express, versus 16% of boomer men, according to the Ad Age piece.

So I must ask, how accurate is the statistic that women control 80% of purchasing power today, especially if 52% of dads now say they're the primary grocery shopper in their household? More than one-third of moms admit that their male counterparts have more influence on grocery store purchases, according to Cone Communications' Year of the Dad, 2012.

Click on the infographic below to enlarge.

Today dads are:

  • Creating a detailed shopping list (63%)
  • Collecting coupons or reading circulars (56%)
  • Planning meals for the week ahead of time (52%)
  • Performing background research on grocery products (24%)

I can't help but wonder why stereotypes, particularly ones pitted against men, continue to permeate campaigns. Six out of 10 fathers say that although they make household purchasing decisions, only 22 to 24% felt the advertising in those categories spoke to them, says IDDBA. In fact, when it comes to the in-store experience, 40% of men feel unwelcome. Evidently advertisers (and their agencies) are missing the mark when it comes to men.

A couple examples come to mind. A recent Clorox Disinfecting Wipes spot features a bumbling dad amid dinner chaos, changing his baby's diaper on the kitchen counter. Mom walks in and she does not approve. Wipes save the day. This not only feeds the misconception that dads are inadequate caregivers, it portrays mom as a belittling matriarch.

In another example, a 2007 Sony Cyber-Shot ad has the subtlety of a sledgehammer. The spot features a family interacting with a real horse's butt as their “dad.” The horse's rear can't cook, ignores a request to go outside and play ball, and starts an argument with his wife at bedtime. But hey, your dad can get his face in focus thanks to this camera!

The moral of the story? Despite shifts in culture, tradition and, responsibilities, certain advertising truisms remain. First and foremost, know your target. Marketers may need to dig a little deeper and be open-minded about who's buying their products. It might surprise you. Let those discoveries lend truth and authenticity to the work. Let's not continue to fuel stereotypes. It comes off as disingenuous and sexist, and consumers can tell. The best way to make a connection and build trust with your consumer is to be real, no matter what gender you're targeting.

Flora Caputo is a VP and the executive creative director at Jacobs Agency in Chicago. Flora has worked on a number of major CPG brands, including Quaker, Kraft, Kellogg's and Cadbury

DMNotes is DMN's around-the-clock blog. Yes, a blog in 2016.

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