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Much may be spoken and desired around gender neutrality and equality, but the deep conditioning of gender roles is probably entrenched in our DNA. No one has really “taught” it to us, and neither do we consciously “teach” it to children. But it exists, and it continues to procreate all around us.

Some brands have taken the lead in questioning society and unveiling nonstereotyped gender roles. Seen as highly progressive at first, winning a lot of wows for the brand, but then it faces its own set of challenges.

Though there is a section of society – albeit a small section  that is mentally ready to progress, it is behaviorally unable to detach from previous codes. Let’s say Knorr Foods wants to portray happy stay-at-home dads, but the wives may not be suitably armored to fight the gender pay-gap at the workplace. Hence, the consequences on income pose a real challenge. Or, for example, if Pampers wants to champion new-age parenting, it would need to challenge the placement of the nappy-change counter in the women’s restrooms alone.

And herein lies the biggest threat for a brand’s progressive stance – more than outright rejection from hardliners is the threat of being called “Ah, nice ad!” That immediately puts it in the realm of fiction: Win the wow, but lose on the how. Heartwarming but impractical, which is worse than improbable. Gender neutrality is probably the toughest progressive stance to foray into given the real-world impracticalities it is surrounded by! Is it enough to present a new thought pattern without any responsibility on the practicality? People are too clever – remember how well they saw through green-washing. Lofty, generous ideals about protecting the earth and living in harmony with nature were soon shattered by reality of business practices. From Exxon to Body Shop – they all stumbled hard.

So what does post-gender marketing require? You can’t skirt reality, but you can creatively navigate your brand all the way.

  • First, believability. Be practically believable. Why overclaim to eventually underwhelm?
  • Second, can you delicately dance around society’s deep-set behavior and even its infrastructure? Does the brand have the wherewithal to go beyond attitude change and truly set a golden benchmark of behavioral change? For example, can it partner the creation of diaper stations in men’s restrooms too? Or actively lead the way on equal pay?
  • And finally, recognize not just the obvious, but also the un-obvious implications of the stance. It may be time to change, but it needs time to change. Both men and women, boys and girls, need a new orientation, individually and societally. Gender roles may not be taught in schools, but they exist all around us – from public restrooms to playgrounds; from personal dress codes to product design codes; from norms around proposing marriage to name change postmarriage. Its deep tentacles are invisibly active more than we realize!

So dream a new society and carve a progressive stance for your brand  lead the way in thought and show the way in action. No, you can’t avoid reality, but you can creatively navigate your brand all the way.

To continue the conversation and learn more about Frank About Women, contact Chief Strategy Officer Shaun Stripling.


Check out how some other brands of note, tackling this topic:

Always: Run Like A Girl – We are ‘Always’ surrounded by gender stereotyping even if we don’t believe in it

Pantene: Don’t Let Labels Hold You Back – A ‘working woman’ breaks the stereotype in some societies, but faces discrimination others.

Honeymaid: This Is Wholesome – Breaking the gender stereotype needs a more ‘Wholesome’ shift in society

Isis Anchalee: I Look Like An Engineer  Engineered by a woman, this Twitter campaign fights the intense gender coding in society



Devika Sharma About the Author
Devika Sharma Executive Director

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