Why do we still use genres in advertising?

It’s 2022 and brands are still failing to address the full spectrum of gender identities in their market research, campaigns and products. This can have devastating consequences for both overlooked demographics and the brand, says Casey Hobgood, associate director of strategy at We Are Social US. Hobgood outlines four strategies marketers can adopt to do better in the future.

Lately, it seems that the universal goal of brands is to be culturally relevant. Marketing teams are informed to hyper-analyze content and think about how to make a brand resonate with their consumers. However, the root of the problem is constantly ignored: how do you make a brand culturally relevant when its audience segments don’t accurately reflect the culture we live in?

The truth is that advertising doesn’t change as fast as people’s mindsets. This is seen most drastically when brands continue to define audiences solely by “masculine” and “feminine”. Sounds like an easy fix: “Just make the content gender-neutral.” However, the problem starts in the research phase. When people fill out surveys or forms, they are usually faced with the choice between “Male” or “Female” and, in some cases, “Other”. For people who identify as non-binary or some other definition outside of the limiting parameters of society, they face another case of unease and isolation.

Gendered products and brands can exclude a significant portion of the population, says Casey Hobgood of We Are Social / Adobe Stock

So what happens if we ignore non-binary identities in search? Well, the results can be dangerous. Platforms and advertising tools can exclude non-binary people from ad targeting, which includes not only product and brand-centric ads, but also housing and employment-related advertising. Additionally, when genres are grouped into catch-all terms such as “Unknown,” research can become misleading, and it is up to the analyst to develop audience profiles. This could include categorizing people based on their behavior and interests, but unfortunately when adding context to an audience, this practice lends itself to unconscious gender bias (e.g. shopping is often associated with female profiles and sport to men).

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This unconscious bias can hinder our ability as marketers to find influencers, develop targeted ads, and create content. For influencers, third-party tools are slow to catch up, with many search filters limited to “male” or “female.” This brings us to our own perceptions when we want to search for content and in doing so, assume someone’s identity based on their appearance. As mentioned earlier, ad targeting is where this problem grows the most. Not only are groups excluded from receiving ads, but audiences are created with interest profiles based on that group’s assumptions. For example, if a brand wants to target men in its ads, interest targeting will most likely lean towards stereotypical “masculine” interests, leaving out important communities who could also benefit from a brand’s products or services. A brand.

In a changing society, we face a huge question: do we really need gender in research and advertising? We live in a society where 56% of people in the United States know someone who identifies outside of binary pronouns and 25% of Gen Z expect to “change their gender identity at least once in course of their lives,” according to an article by Lisa Kenney. . Even though the culture has come a long way and people are more comfortable than ever with embracing and accepting others, brands are still making pink pens and toolboxes for women, toy cars for boys. and dolls for girls. What can we do? Here are four actions marketers can take immediately:

1. Determine if gender is necessary

A good place to start on both a brand and social level is to ask the following questions before starting a project. First, does gender really matter for the product or brand? Otherwise, omit gendered words. If so, adjust the content to include inclusive messaging so that communities who might find value in that brand or product don’t feel ignored or left out.

2. Push customers in the right direction

The most immediate and impactful action brands need to take is to commit to eliminating gender from all strategies unless it’s a product that specifically requires gender. On the agency side, it is the responsibility of marketers to recognize these opportunities to push brands forward and ensure that strategy and content accurately reflect the culture we live in.

3. Audit research tools

We also know that the root of non-binary representation of brands begins at the research and investigation phase, and people should have the choice to include their identity. Agencies should audit their current search tools to ensure they have a mix of platforms that can give a more holistic view of gender qualifiers.

4. Educate ourselves continuously

While becoming more aware of the use of gender in advertising, it can be difficult to ensure that we are aware and inclusive of all identities used. Marketers have a challenging and exciting responsibility to start the wave of change by adjusting search practices and educating brands. While this isn’t a change that can happen overnight, hopefully those who have felt alienated and misunderstood won’t have to wait too long for the rest of the world to catch up.

Casey Hobgood is associate director of strategy at global advertising agency We Are Social.

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