a look at gendered market segmentation

The average adult sees well over 5000+ marketing messages everyday. These numbers include not only the formal advertisements through television, radio, newspapers and the Internet, but also includes the ads you encouter in your mailbox, the labels on items of clothing you wear, the make of cars on the road and every time you pass a label or item when you’re out shopping.

Of all these advertisements, the average adult is only aware of around 85 advertisements per day. This makes advertiser’s jobs challenging as they need to find ways to cut through and attract consumers who may purchase the products they sell.

Advertisers use market segmentation to shape and define their ideal consumers. Market segmentation refers to the categorisation of a market or targeted audience with similar characteristics or behaviours. For example, a market can be segmented by geography, culture or demography. Demographic segmentation is common, with gender, age, income and educational levels as some of the more popular ways to segment a market.

One of the clearest places to see market segmentation in action is in the toy department. Toy departments are often divided into girl and boy areas, which are easily identified by their colour code; pink and pastel coloured areas for girls, while boys have areas with lots of other colours (although the main colours are blue, black and green).

The aisles of a toy department with girls toys on the left and boys toys on the right.

But it’s not only toys which are divided by gender and colour, it is also clothes, baby nappies, stationery, and even hygiene products.

Generally speaking, men and women of today live similar lives. We grow up together, go to school together, and have access to the same jobs and opportunities; or so they tell us.

Gender, and the products we gravitate towards are not always a conscious decision. If I as a woman want to smell like flowers and fruits, does it really matter? It’s not hurting anyone, is it?

Well, some gendered products do have the potential to cause harm.

Gendered products constantly affirm that not only is gender important, but that the distinction between male and female really matters. This, whether we are consciously aware or not, impacts us all. Not just the people who don't identify with their biological gender.

Every minute of our day we make choices, and sometimes limit ourselves, in an attempt to fit into the gender binary. What we wear, how we smell, how we talk, what we put on our faces — all are shaped by our identification of ourself and how we fit into our gendered world.

As adults, once we understand this we can make choices to buy or use things that are outside our defined “areas”; albeit we might have to deal with the scrutiny of others for not conforming with the “norm”. For example, when you walk the toiletries aisle of any supermarket, do you look at the products on both sides of the aisle, or do you gravitate to your gender specific area?

So how do we open our eyes to look at the other side of the aisle if our gender is enforced on us from a young age?

And it does happen at a young age.

Girls are Pink Princesses and boys are Blue Captains.

From infancy others are defining our gender by our biology. Babies are colour-coded in pinks and blues. Blue is for boys and pink is for girls.

A recent study indicates that individuals as young as 18 months to 3 years are becoming aware of their gender identity.

In fact, before they can even say their name some children are identifying themselves as either a boy or a girl.

Being able to identify your biological gender is probably considered important for medical reasons, but for what other reason, particularly at a young age, is the identification of gender necessary?

These gendered products, however, may adversly perpetuate gender stereotypes. These stereotypes may influence interactions with others, career aspirations, and even help shape our core understandings of ourselves.

Melissa Atkins Wardy, author of “Redefining Girly,” claims that gender specific toys can diminish a child’s education potential.

“Gendered toy marketing divides a child’s ability to learn about the world based on gender constructions that are culturally determined,” she told Al Jazeera America.

Gendered toys doesn’t simply refer to a particular toy, such as a toy hammer being available in pink or blue. Rather it is about the range of toys available within the gendered blue “boy”, or pink “girl”, defined areas. For example, in the ‘blue’ section we may find items such as cars, superheroes and toy tools, while in the ‘pink’ section we are likely to find dolls, fairies and cooking utensils.

The gender stereotypes reaffirm these products are not just about the difference in colour preference, they’re also about defining interests and future pathways. They give children different expectations of the roles boys and girls play in society.

Before they even experience their first day at school, children begin to think about what career they will have when they grow up. Children as young as four have demonstrated a strong gender bias towards jobs. This thinking may be influenced through the roles they observe men and women occupying around them in their families, their schools, in books, toys and media.

“Toys designed for girls usually revolve around beauty or domesticity, while toys marketed at boys often relate to building, adventure and aggression,” Melissa Wardy explained.

The images of childern shown on the boxes tell children and parents who these items are made for

“Limiting girls’ play to princesses, mommies and make up artists gives girls the message that their worth comes from their appearance. Meanwhile, boys are taught through play to be brave, adventurous and smart,” Wardy said.

Elizabeth Sweet, a doctoral candidate who studies gender and toys at the University of California, believes that these persistent stereotypes are at the core of inequality in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.

Evidence from 50 different countries demonstrates that by the end of year ten in schooling, far fewer girls are pursuing maths and science than boys.

“Any time a girl is told what she should like, all her diverse interests get truncated, and she gets pushed out of things she might normally pursue. When we tell 50 percent of the population that certain activities and toys — like a building set — are off limits, then we are limiting the skills and capacity of half of the population,” Sweet told Al Jazeera America.

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) reports that on average in 2009, in Australia and across OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, about 75% of the tertiary degrees in health and welfare studies were obtained by women.

The AIFS report explains that even when young women choose scientific and technological fields of study, they are less likely than young men to take up careers in those fields.

These disparities in educational choices are related to student attitudes, not a lack of high-performance or high intelligence. The AIFS claims these attitudes are “undoubtedly influenced by traditional perceptions of gender roles and wide acceptance of the cultural values associated with particular fields of study.”

The gendered stereotypes presented to children through everyday advertisements and toys have direct links to how each gender approaches their educational and career choices.

The average university graduate salary for women is approximately 9.4% less than that of their male counterparts. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency calculates the Australian national gender pay gap to be 17.9% in 2015. Through influencing our education and career choices, gendered stereotypes exposed to us as children are playing a role in helping to perpetuate this wage remuneration gap.

Infographic Statistics from: Womens Agenda and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency

It’s been well over 100 years since women earned the right to vote in Australia, and almost 190 years since Australia’s first recorded female workers riot, so it’s a little surprising to discover that Australian women are still getting paid less than men.

In addition to this pay gap, many gendered products targeted towards adult women are more expensive than their male or generic equivalents.

While a few cents or dollars might not sound like much, over a lifetime it adds up.

Activist group GetUp has dubbed the decreased pay and increased pricing of female gendered products, the “Pink Tax”.

Get Up senior campaigner Kelsey Cooke explains that basic items such as female clothing, disposable razors, deodorants and even chocolate have been affected by this Pink Tax.

“There seems to be a mark-up there for women that is really pervasive and would be really quite astronomical,” she told News Daily. “Now that we see this is a trend that applies across so many different parts of people’s lives, it’s likely to really add up in a lot of unexpected places.”

Cooke believes that profit is the most logical explanation for the difference in price for gendered products; women seem more conditioned to paying more for similar products than their male counterparts, whether it is an item of clothing, a hygiene product or a basic haircut.

“I dare say that if they [companies] can find a way to make a profit on women’s products by making them cost more, then they’ll probably continue doing it,” she told the Daily Mail.

Of course companies that manufacutre products need to make a profit if they want to survive and prosper. Differentiating the products they sell can and does, lead to greater profit margins.

This is why gendered market segmentation works. It ensures companies continue to sell more toys and more clothing by making it harder for parents to pass down items between siblings of a different biological gender.

Most kids love bikes, yet since cycling first became popular in the late 1800’s there has been a difference in how they have been produced for each gender. Lower crossbars were added to women’s bikes to make them easier to mount and cycle while wearing the long dresses of the time. However, it also makes the bicycle slightly weaker than the male equivalent too. While we have left the long dresses and petticoats of the 1800’s behind, bicycles still emulate the same gendered structure.

Still, having these distinct bicycle frames for boys and girls today (along with the distinctly femminine or masculine decorations, such as pastel streamers, flowered baskets and the like) ensure parent’s will purchase multiple bikes.

If a daughter has outgrown her bike rather than pass the bike to her younger brother, parents are more likely to purchase a bike that reflects the biological gender of their son.

And that’s where gendered marketing wins.