Me, myself & I Identity complexity
“Fixing things around the house was the last bastion of manliness. But now, even that is getting taken away. As women become more economically independent, they are starting to fix things around the house for themselves.” Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men (WashingtonPost.com, January 22, 2013)
“Accustomed to building Facebook pages and other online identities, Millennials are comfortable with the notion of mixing and matching different elements of their persona, a trait that carries over into their shopping choices, according to analysts and academics.” Jilian Mincer, journalist at Reuters (Reuters.com, September 10, 2014)
With consumer life stage getting less clear-cut – Millennials delaying starting a family, children achieving independence later, and populations aging, living longer and healthier, self-identification is not as clearly defined as it used to be. In a world where there is massive choice in self-identity, where lives accumulate many layers and different facets, people have to adapt their behavior to their environment. Not only is one’s personality different at home, at work, with family, friends etc. but also the stereotypes related to age, gender and social class are no longer relevant. Consumers today are bonding through experiences, attitudes and behaviors rather than age or social class.
Not only is one’s personality different at home, at work, with family, friends etc. but also the stereotypes related to age, gender and social class are no longer relevant.
The concept of the self has become more complex – it is no longer single-minded but instead multi-faceted as the roles consumers perform daily require frequent change. Furthermore, technology has developed the complexity and diversity of identity, whetting people’s curiosity to explore these multiple facets. The combination of the virtual and the physical maintains an ever-widening number of separate selves that all connect back to one single fragmented “me.” Never before have consumers had so many opportunities to invent and reinvent their own identity. The challenge for brands is to recognize the need for more targeted approaches, to provide an anchor or foundation in helping consumers decide who they are, and to bring more flexibility in order to remain relevant from one occasion to the next. This flexibility is giving rise to a growing inclusiveness and respect for diversity, which is impacting the perception that people have about gender and age.
With more women in higher education; girls going geek- approaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects with more gusto; men being allowed more emotional expressiveness; fathers becoming cooking meals, supervising playgrounds, attending parent-teacher meetings, pushing strollers and more (see blogs like Pink Is for Boys, Accepting Dad) ; traditional gender roles are getting blurred. This hybridization of traditional roles is impacting who the head of household is, since mums are not necessarily the child rearer anymore and rather becoming the household’s bread-winner. Notions of ‘female’ and ‘male’ territories are blending together to create a more fluid and nuanced understanding of gender. These shifts are challenging traditional gender marketing, which remains relevant in some cases, or outdated in some others.
Consumers don’t show great enthusiasm for gender-targeted products or services as 60% of them think that they don’t meet today’s needs. But this is less true for Millennials (48% of them believe that these products meet “real needs”) than for older consumers (32%), according to Emarketing.fr.
A growing number of brands are fighting against clichés through unisex product lines and packaging or through conventions inversion, while another group pushes gender targeting farther. Unisex packaging and labelling is a practical choice that cuts through stereotypes to address universal needs. Consumers don’t show great enthusiasm for gender-targeted products or services as 60% of them think that they don’t meet today’s needs. But this is less true for Millennials (48% of them believe that these products meet “real needs”) than for older consumers (32%), according to Emarketing.fr. More particularly, children don’t want sexist pink and blue goods and that is something they are telling their favourite brands. In the meantime, as same-sex relationships are gaining cultural legitimacy, bisexual and transexual identities are also likely to become less marginalized. Even parents are pushing back against gender conventions to make room for more authentic self-expression for kids.
Age is another area where stereotypes are breaking down. Today’s mature consumers have a broad range of needs and are eager for brands to address the multi-dimensionality of their lifestyles as well as their rich and complex desires with tailored products and services.
The fashion and cosmetics sectors are now celebrating age as opposed to attacking it as it used to do, and mature models are now increasingly being featured in media communications.
For instance, grandparents are redefining their roles in the family as they are pitching in to care for grandkids or helping out by funding education and extracurricular opportunities. Also, the fashion and cosmetics sectors are now celebrating age as opposed to attacking it as it used to do, and mature models are now increasingly being featured in media communications. Former American top model and actress Lauren Hutton (69) has graced the cover of fashion magazines including Vogue, Elle and Love, fronted fashion advertising campaigns for Alexis Bittar and walked the catwalk for Tom Ford’s womenswear line. Mature actresses are featured in TV programmes as well as real women in TV reality shows – six mature women were the subject of a 2013 British documentary — Fabulous Fashionistas on Channel 4. In parallel, academics and education experts are taking positive steps to enable change: international scholar Margaret Morganroth Gullette wrote the paper, “How (Not) to Shoot Old People: Changing the Paradigms of Portrait Photography” (2013) while Professor Julia Twigg published Fashion and Age: Dress, the Body and Later Life (Bloomsbury Academic, 2013).
UK-based personal care brand Samuel Farmer and Co. has launched a unisex line of personal-care products for teens. Products include face wash, body wash, shampoo, conditioner and moisturizer, all packaged in flexible tubes, plus roll-on deodorant in a rigid container. Packaging for the products avoids gender-related cues, relying instead on bold hues, typographic design and metallic ink. In doing so, both male and female young consumers can benefit from the same skin- and hair-care products.
United Kingdom, January 2013
Mega Bloks Barbie Buil ‘N Style
Mattel wants to break the rules of gender marketing. The toy brand has partnered with Mega Bloks to create the first Barbie-branded line of construction toys, Mega Bloks Barbie Build ‘N Style. Young girls can build, design and decorate their own Barbie world with compatible playsets and mini-fashion figures and create a new and personal play experience. Once rather reserved for boys, toy construction is now also a ‘girl thing’, with no identity matter involved anymore.
Canada, December 2012
Super U’s Christmas catalog
Supermarket chain Super U is also aiming at fighting sexism with the launch of its annual Christmas catalog featuring boys playing with dolls and even preparing the meal, while girls play with construction games or with cars.
France, November 2012
“Brothers, Sisters, Sons and Daughters”
Department store Barneys New York’s launched its Spring 2014 campaign “Brothers, Sisters, Sons and Daughters” featuring seventeen ordinary young men and women who share a common characteristic: they are all transgender individuals. These modern models have been photographed and filmed surrounded by family, friends, and loved ones. Plus, each model has been interviewed to share their diverse experiences and unique personal stories. Photos and interviews were released on the brand’s website and print catalog.
United States, February 2014
Danone for Men
The “Danone for Men” range launched by yoghurt brand Danone in Bulgaria conspicuously displays their male target. The packaging is colored in black (round or square, in pots or bottles), a bias that is decidedly masculine. With its thick texture, strong protein charge and low-fat composition (5%), this new range targets men who have large appetite but want remain in control of their weight and physical appearance.
Bulgaria, June 2013
My Little Box
French fashion, beauty & lifestyle website MyLittleParis just launched a line of computer and smartphone accessories called ‘Geekette’. The message is clear: tech stuff is no longer reserved to men and, moreover, being a geek can be cool and fashionable as well. Products are decorated with drawings of young women in their daily lifestyle and taglines such as ‘Computers are girls’ best friends’ or ‘Geek is the new sexy’.
France, October 2014
Business & Marketing guidelines
|Don’t stigmatize your consumers according to their gender, age, or social class but rather show flexibility in your communication messages to reflect the diversity of personalities, roles and behaviors.|
|Create products and services that bring flexibility into people’s lives, adapting to changing needs of consumers according to the time of the day, the places or people.|
|If you are designing products or clothes for older consumers, don’t label your products as targeted at this market nor modelled on older people. Usually, older people are more receptive to terms such as “classic” and “ageless style”.|
- Not only is one’s personality different at home, at work, with family, friends etc. but also the stereotypes of age, gender and social class are no longer relevant.
- Notions of ‘female’ and ‘male’ territories are blending together to create a more fluid and nuanced understanding of gender.
- Consumers don’t show great enthusiasm for gender-targeted products or services as 60% of them think that they don’t meet today’s needs. But this is less true for Millennials (48% of them believe that these products meet “real needs”) than for older consumers (32%) according to Emarketing.fr.
- Today’s mature consumers have a broad range of needs and are eager for brands to address the multi-dimensionality of their lifestyles as well as their rich and complex desires with tailored products and services.
Experts that we recommend
French new media and politics journalist at France Inter and France Culture
CEO of International Fashion Academy de Paris
|Laure Bereni & Mathieu Trachman
Co-authors of Le Genre, théories et controverses (Presses Universitaires de France, 2014)
Marketing director of Aufeminin.com
Head of advertising qual research department at Ipsos UU France
President of The TrendSight Group, is a recognized authority on gender-focused marketing strategies author of book Marketing to Women: How to Increase Your Share of the World’s Largest Market (Kaplan, 2011)