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Spotting the marketing opps in blurring gender lines

From The Powerpuff Girls to Hasbro's new Queasy-Bake Oven, today's gender-bending offerings reflect a shift in what it means to be a girl or boy in an evolving market. And while the cultural impact of changing gender roles demands greater sensitivity from marketers, it also offers them greater flexibility when it comes to communicating with kids and their parents. Saatchi & Saatchi Kid Connection offers four ways today's blurry gender perceptions can inspire clearly meaningful work.
September 1, 2002

From The Powerpuff Girls to Hasbro’s new Queasy-Bake Oven, today’s gender-bending offerings reflect a shift in what it means to be a girl or boy in an evolving market. And while the cultural impact of changing gender roles demands greater sensitivity from marketers, it also offers them greater flexibility when it comes to communicating with kids and their parents. Saatchi & Saatchi Kid Connection offers four ways today’s blurry gender perceptions can inspire clearly meaningful work.

Transcend the gender divide–Gen Y is known for accepting diversity, whether it be between races, religions, ethnicities or gender. After all, as one 14-year-old girl put it, ‘There is no one ‘normal.” To tap into this notion of ‘similarity within diversity,’ Saatchi & Saatchi identified key gender-transcending themes–such as competition and self-reliance–for brand communication. Competition is leveraged in a recent spot for General Mills’ Betty Crocker Fruit-by-the-Foot in which one tween instigates a cross-town, cross-gender skateboard race in pursuit of the long fruity strips. Spots for sister brand Fruit Roll-Ups are always set in a kid-run factory, highlighting self-reliance.

Celebrate what’s unique–Believing that boys and girls are the same underneath makes today’s kids more accepting of surface distinctions. So celebrating what’s special about being a girl or boy has also become an effective way for marketers to reach each sex in a meaningful way. Embracing unabashed girly-ness has been key to the success of many brands targeting young girls. Mattel’s licensed Barbie products are awash in pink, feathers and flowers, while Lisa Frank bills its wares as ‘Stuff Girls Love!’ The reason to dig Bonne Bell’s offerings? Duh! Print ads proclaim, ‘I am a girl.’ Girls relish the choices these products allow them. A 12-year-old focus group participant explained, ‘Depending on your mood, sometimes you want to be all girly and other times you want to look more plain.’ Both, she assured us, are ‘OK’ and ‘cool.’

While cultural inhibitions have prevented this overt celebration of ‘maleness’ from trickling down to young boys, it does exist on the teen scene in magazines like Maxim and Stuff. New work for Procter & Gamble’s Old Spice brand reflects this cultural shift, speaking to young men by embracing what makes a guy a guy. One spot for just-launched Cool Contact Refreshment Towels shows three sweaty young men prepping for a night on the town, while another features one freshening up between dates. This approach bolstered sales for Cool Contact and other Old Spice lines from US$98 million in 1997 to US$132 million last year, with Teenage Research Unlimited reporting that more than one in four male teens are Old Spice deodorant users.

Make friends with the cooties–There are times–elementary school comes to mind–when boys and girls find one another more yucky and annoying than anything else, and their perceptions of what’s acceptable for each gender to do, eat, drink, play with, wear or buy are ultra-rigid. In a recent query on sleepovers, one fourth-grade girl explained that boys use overnighters to ‘be loud’ and ‘hit each other,’ while her male counterpart insisted that girls have sleepovers to ‘do their hair and nails.’ It’s times like this when, sure, both genders co-exist–and even collaborate–yet are rarely fully engaged with one another and are adamant about what’s ‘boy stuff’ or ‘girl stuff.’

A recent spot for Yoplait Go-Gurt reinforces the gendered realities of kids at this lifestage. Promoting the limited-edition lightsaber tube, a tie-in with Star Wars: Episode II–Attack of the Clones, the spot showed boys ‘dueling’ with the product in typically aggressive boy style. A noticeably annoyed, unsympathetic sister eagerly informs them that mom is on her way home, and therefore the fun–if that’s, like, what you want to call it–must come to an end. By making gender tensions an element of the spot, Yoplait tells a relatable story and makes a potentially male-skewing marketing idea resonate with girls as well.

Make kid reality a parent’s fantasy–How do kids develop their first gender impressions? Through Mom and Dad. Today’s parents say they believe that the individual identity of their child is more important than his or her sex, yet they admit to reverting back to gender stereotypes when challenged or pressed for time. As one mother told researchers, ‘The truth is, if the carpet needs to be vacuumed and the lawn needs to be mowed, I’ll ask my daughter to vacuum and my son to mow.’

Marketers can get in with parents by appealing to their gender aspirations–the way they want to treat their kids in today’s more gender-balanced world. Remember the cross-town skateboard chase for Fruit-by-the-Foot? It was instigated by a sassy, athletic…girl!

This column is based upon proprietary research conducted by Saatchi & Saatchi Kid Connection. For more info about Kid Connection, contact Jonathan Goldmacher by phone (212-463-2850) or by e-mail (jgoldmacher@saatchiny.com).

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