Days of selling to the sexes are long gone ... yeah right

By Joanna Mathers

Just when we thought the battle between men and women, and glass ceilings were fast becoming quaint history, advertising gurus are now dredging up old stereotypes to help sell more yoghurt, bread and beer

Tui beer used sexy women to seduce men and Export 33 beer combined romance and humour to attract women.
Tui beer used sexy women to seduce men and Export 33 beer combined romance and humour to attract women.

They said that "men can eat yoghurt, as long as it's thick and chunky and built to tame a man's hunger". The only trouble was that the men didn't believe it.

When Fonterra launched its Mammoth range in 2010, the campaign was all about gender. Men, apparently, don't much like yoghurt so to increase its market share Fonterra targeted the blokes.

Using the creative agency Shine, Fonterra launched a campaign that was riddled with male stereotypes: rugby, check; beards, check; blokey tagline, check.

But it didn't work. Great pots of Mammoth yoghurt went unloved. Mammoth still produces an iced coffee but the yoghurt disappeared off supermarket shelves, unable to compete with Fonterra's other brands such as De Winkel and Fresh and Fruity.

The Mammoth campaign wasn't enough to persuade real men to eat yoghurt but other campaigns unashamedly based on gender segmentation do work.

Take the DB Export Gold, created by Colenso BBD. Set in the 80s, when men were apparently made to drink "girly" wine, the campaign, with its tagline of "let nothing come between a man and a great beer" won the hearts and wallets of men around the country.

According to Colenso BBD's executive creative director Nick Worthington the campaign generated the highest sales of the beer since its launch in 1987.

Gender segmentation is common in the world of consumer goods. Stroll down the supermarket aisles and you'll spot pink packs of beauty products targeted at women stacked alongside sinister-looking black bottles of deodorant for men. On television, women do the housework in appliance ads and rugged men drink beer in the great outdoors.

In the world of advertising and marketing, we are awash with 1950s style values and images.

Nowhere is gender used more overtly, and controversially, than in beer advertising. Blokey beer brand Tui is fond of using overtly sexy women in its campaigns. Its advertisements featuring scantily clad sex pots in a brewery are a prime example.

The ads ruffle feathers with some women's advocacy groups - including Feminist Action, which campaigned to have the ads taken off the air last year. A proposed meeting with Tui representatives found its way on to a Tui billboard. The billboard, which read "Having a beer with the Auckland feminist group would be fun - yeah right" did little to quell Feminist Action's concerns.

However, Facebook revealed some interesting insights into Tui's target market. Posts on the Tui page were positive towards the campaign - Damien DeCourcy's response to the feminist billboard was typical: "Please tell me this is actually a billboard somewhere. If it were in the Auckland CBD I would drink Tui for the rest of the year".

Moa beer was also deliberately provocative in its campaign last year which featured images of Mad Menstyle suited men, alongside leggy, short-skirted women in provocative poses.

So why have these stereotypes survived the battle for equality and feminist-driven campaigns to stamp out a bygone era of sexism? Why do we equate soft and sweet with women, tough and tasty with men? And is this kind of marketing harmful to gender equality?

Wendy Roigard knows all about the effect gender stereotyping can have on the perception of a product. The beer aficionado and owner of Valkyrie Brewing Co likes to steer away from gender-specific marketing but says this doesn't stop people from seeing her beers as "female".

She thinks the marketing of light, fruity beers as "female" stops women from trying the more full-bodied beers often seen as "male".

"I find it amusing that because I'm a woman and because my beers are more subtly flavoured, people assume they are targeted at females, especially when my branding is intentionally unisex."

Roigard is so passionate about educating women on craft beer that she is setting up a beer festival - Beer in the City - designed for women. She hopes this will go some way in promoting beer as a unisex drink. "It may appear that I'm being somewhat contradictory in my views, given that Beer in the City is an event for women and I think beer should be unisex; but my beer is unisex and I believe women or men-specific marketing of beer is unjustified."

Roigard's gender-neutral stance is unusual in a product marketing world that repeatedly reinforces all the most traditional ideas around gender.

Fonterra's Symbio yoghurt - smooth and creamy and "female" - is marketed very differently from the discontinued Mammoth brand. Its packaging is a slender female shape.

Shapes Roadies, with its accompanying "release the man child" ads, claim to have a "fearless flavour" - think men as fearless and free.

And Burgen has a "men's" and "women's" wellbeing range of breads; the "male" bread is thick, dark, and chunky, the "female" bread is soft and light.

The Burgen bread range is a good example of a popular form of gender segmentation, drawing on ideas of "health" as a marketing tool.

Nutritionist Olivia Green investigated the two breads and in her opinion the gender-specific breads did contain nutrients that could help with men's and women's different nutritional needs.

"Men have higher requirements for omega 3 and protein, and both of these are supplied in this bread. Soy isoflavones found in the kibbled soy in this bread may help reduce men's risk of prostate health.

"The soy in the women's bread provides calcium which is important for bone health. And the increased folate is useful for those planning to be, or are already pregnant."

In this instance, gender-based marketing may be justified but other campaigns are nothing to do with our physical health. Dr Stephen Lloyd, senior lecturer in marketing and advertising at Auckland University of Technology, has worked with some of the world's most recognised brands. As a specialist in brand symbolism he suggests that the association between certain product characteristics and gender is often used in themarketing of brands.

"Male food brands are often associated with function, energy and power," he says. "Female brands are often equated with luxury, softness and indulgence."

He uses the well-known example of Moro and Mars bars - marketed as "masculine", as providing energy and being functional - compared to Cadbury Flake, positioned as luxurious, delicate, and "feminine".

Lloyd says that using identifying gender characteristics in advertising does not necessarily reinforce stereotypes but it reflects the culture from which they are created. Effective advertising campaigns tell stories about the lives of the people they target, he says.

"Take the Speights ads. Speights is a drink you share with mates; there is an emphasis on mateship. Premium imported beer stories are often more about a personal experience."

Gender-specific advertising may reflect the culture of the groups they are targeting, but not everyone agrees it is harmless marketing. Women's Health Action Trust spokeswoman George Christy Parker says advertisements which portray traditional ideas of masculinity and femininity can perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes.

"The focus of advertisements that use gender stereotypes to market their brand tends to be on representing what it means to 'be a man' and stereotypes of masculinity.

"Being 'a real man' in beer ads is prescribed in narrow and negative terms and includes being heterosexual, disinterested in your partner or in family life, and prioritising beer and mates," says Parker.

"That's a pretty limited and out-of-date representation of masculinity. Likewise, beer advertising represents a limited and outdated view of femininity - either as highly sexualised objects for men's viewing pleasure or as nagging partners who are trying to restrict men's freedom."

And while these insights may sometimes reflect an uncomfortable truth, they can still be highly effective when selling products. Except when selling yoghurt to blokes.

Tasty testing

Comely comedienne Jaquie Brown and blokey bloke Leigh Hart are well-known for their keen wit, but how about their palates? We presented them with a challenge - to correctly identify which gender a selection of consumer goods were targeted at in a blind taste test. Their results are as follows.

Cheddar Potato Skins Roadies; Original Cheddar Cheese Shapes Snacks. Photo / Doug Sherring
Cheddar Potato Skins Roadies; Original Cheddar Cheese Shapes Snacks. Photo / Doug Sherring

1. Cheddar Potato Skins Roadies and Original Cheddar Cheese Shapes Snacks

Leigh: The chips in bowl one have a pre-infused flavour, which is great for men because it means you don't have to do anything to them. The chips in bowl two are blander - they are a blank canvas that needs something like hummus to bring them to life.

Jaquie: The chips in bowl one are potent and stenchy, like an old sock that's been used well and shoved down the back of a couch. The second chips are more delicate.

Results: Both Jaquie and Leigh picked sample one as the "masculine" chip. They were right: Shapes Roadies are targeted at men.

Mammoth Iced Coffee; Nippy's Iced Coffee. Photos / Doug Sherring
Mammoth Iced Coffee; Nippy's Iced Coffee. Photos / Doug Sherring

2. Mammoth Iced Coffee and Nippy's Iced Coffee

Leigh: I initially thought sample one was the girl's iced coffee, because it tasted very sweet. But the coffee in sample two has a vanilla flavour, which is quite feminine.

Jaquie: Sample one smells strong, and kind of like a cellar. Sample two smells sweet; like chocolate and Kahlua, or pudding. And it tastes exactly like it smells.

Results: Once again, Leigh and Jaquie correctly identified the "male" iced coffee, which is the Mammoth brand.

Burgen Men's Wellbeing Bread; Women's Wellbeing Bread. Photos / Doug Sherring
Burgen Men's Wellbeing Bread; Women's Wellbeing Bread. Photos / Doug Sherring

3. Burgen Men's Wellbeing Bread and Women's Wellbeing Bread

Leigh: The first bread is darker, heavier - has a hard exterior and is soft in the middle, just like a man. It would be great toasted. The other bread is fluffy and light ... like a woman.

Jaquie: Bread one is athletic, compact, business like, whereas bread two is delicate and somewhat fragile.

Result: They both correctly identified sample one as being the men's bread and sample two as the women's.

Dirty Man Moisturiser; Nivea Skin Firming Body Lotion. Photos / Doug Sherring
Dirty Man Moisturiser; Nivea Skin Firming Body Lotion. Photos / Doug Sherring

4. Dirty Man Moisturiser and Nivea Skin Firming Body Lotion

Leigh: Sample one smells like it means business; sample two kind of smells like birdseed.

Jaquie: Sample one has a musky depth; a male freshness. Sample two is lighter and thinner in texture - and I like the smell.

Result: Both guessed correctly that Dirty Man Moisturiser was the men's moisturiser and Nivea Skin Firming Body Lotion the women's.

- Herald on Sunday

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