Stereotypes in marketing

At the center of any marketing communication there must always stand the customers. However, despite technological advances, we still cannot collect all the data about them. This is why we often make our work easier with a number of projections designed to help us refine our targeting. But we must treat them with caution and verify whether we are not just subject to socially deep-rooted stereotypes in our conclusions.

A good example of stereotyping, for example, is the player of computer games. Many imagine a younger man who spends the whole day at the computer and practically doesn’t talk to anyone. Therefore, it can come as a surprise that the statistical representation of men and women among global players is perfectly balanced (year-on-year deviation of +/- 2 %), and with one quarter, we are talking about a persons aged 45 years and older.

It concludes that a stereotypical assumption does not equal statistical data.

Multinational FMCG company Unilever decided to set an example in breaking stereotypes in advertising . Their corporate marketing communication tries to follow social developments and so break the traditional roles and social portraits, which belongs perhaps to the last century, and today, they cannot be arbitrarily applied on consumer behaviour. Already in 2017, they founded an association that connects other organizations, and they all work together to eradicate stereotypes in all advertising formats.

In the video below, you can watch their DNA experiment.

Presenting the two most common stereotypes that interfere with segmentation, now.

Age matters (not)

We often apply a common stereotype in dividing and comparing generations to each other. We attribute to them uniform patterns of behaviour and define their consumer decision-making only on the year of birth basis. We call them inappropriately segments and pair them to one medium, which this or that generation uses most often – for instance, the Digital First approach for Generation Y or Social First approach for Generation Z. However, the generation does not resemble a definition of any segment, by far. You can just look around yourself, how behave those of same age, our peers, and we can notice a surprising thing – our age says nothing about our interests or how we spend our work and leisure time.

Take, for example, millennials. Every once in a while, a study that analyses Generation Y behaviour comes out, but the results don’t support what is widely claimed. The behaviour and decision-making of millennials doesn’t make a significant difference to previous generations. It is just younger and maybe a little poorer till certain age. Therefore, marketing should perceive age only as a number, that itself says nothing tell, and don’t fixate on presumptions. It is the behaviour of each individual itself that should interest us.

Another widespread stereotype then applies to traditional media. We often see them as retreating, with younger generations spending their time on phones alone. Again, statistics say something else. Though, one cannot of course deny that, today, we spend more time on-line than ever before, to underestimate the reach of traditional media would also be a costly mistake. Instead of looking for the most relevant media, we should rather decide in what proportion a suitable mediamix will be compiled.

Mr Blue and Mrs Pink

With the problem of the for some outdated perception of gender roles of men and women today, we still encounter almost everywhere, although the topic itself is not that new. The ways in which these stereotypical roles are reflected in marketing are increasingly causing the opportunity to reach potentially more profitable customers to be missed. Research by the British research agency Kantar suggests that two thirds of women think current ads negatively portray the role of a woman.

Whether we’re talking about a social role, or the ways the product is communicated, marketing often overrates whether a customer for a product should be woman or man. Still, in advertising there apply old standards, that the man is the head of the family, at the same time, the technical type, and clueless in the household, while women on the contrary, belong to the house-keeping and in their spare time they buy things they don’t need. But that certainly this cannot be applied nowadays, so brands possible forgetting some of their potential customers is based solely on these unfounded assumptions.

But gender stereotypes by far don’t concern adults only. Gender marketing among children’s toys may be an even bigger problem than among adult products. Division of products in pink and blue or cars for boys and dolls for girls today is a complete standard, which has surpassed the period before 50 years ago, which was generally on far more discriminatory in social norms. Even despite the fact, that according to research, the girls today equally with the boys show interest in the video games and quarter of them won’t wear anything pink. For example, the worldwide popular brand Lego decided to test its products by a mixed group, only a few years ago. In doing so, it is clear that such a decision may have previously had a major impact on prototyping products and expanding the portfolio of small customers.

In the year 2018, the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) came with the new set of rules, which should the British advertising industry follow in order to eliminate, as much as possible, the negative impact of advertising on the perception of male and female roles in society. But it was rather a first try to point out the fact that old order no longer fits today, and may generally have a negative impact on society.

How do brands try to work with breaking of stereotypes?

In 2019, globally popular sub-brand Diet Coke set out into the world with the campaign Unlabeled – Imagine the World Without Imposed Labels, that tried to tear down stereotypes built around gender roles, ethnic groups or sexuality. It was also a message that not every “label” is bad, it just needs to get to know to the individual more in depth.

In recent days, there has been a wave of reactions in recent triggered by spot of Girls. Girls. Girls magazine “Don’t be a Slut. Be a Lady they Said” that shows gender labels and stereotypes associated with the role of a woman in society.

Thus, it tries to provoke a discussion over the absurd demands that are burdened on women, and the impact on their self-esteem. Also the Dove brand has been successfully fighting with this in its ads, for a long time.

How to avoid the mistaken stereotypes?

The difference between targeting a stereotype, and a real group of potential customers is only in data and research implementation. Better prevention of inaccurate segmentation does not exist. As we have showed on several examples, statistics often go in an unexpected direction compared to what we read or hear.