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How sex sells
The fact that my first Barbie house was shiny and pink, does not mean I like my tool box, laptop or telephone shiny and pink. I can appreciate a masculine product or brand, and do not see the need to “pink it & shrink it”. In fact, it would be awesome to drive a Porsche or a Harley-Davidson sometime. Harley’s CFO John Olin expressed this feeling well: “A lot of women, I guess, like to be bad asses as well”. Similarly, my boyfriend likes Dove and he is not the only male fan. (Dove was one of the top-5 most desired brands in 2012, among women and men.) So if men are able to desire feminine brands and women can value masculine brands, does gender matter at all?
Dr. Theo Lieven and colleagues (2014) have studied this question by examining the role of gender in a branding context. In an online study, 130,000 consumers rated 140 well-known brands on masculinity and femininity—and evaluated the brand equity. (Brand equity can be seen as the incremental utility of the branded product compared with a non-branded equivalent.)
The scientists did not find a difference in preferences between masculine or feminine brands. However, the results show that masculine and feminine brands have higher brand equity and preference than gender-neutral brands, regardless of the product category (Lieven, figure 1). More interestingly, the results were not influenced by the gender of the consumer. Males preferred feminine brands as well as masculine brands, over gender-neutral brands. Likewise, females evaluated brands with a higher degree of femininity or masculinity more positively.
The study also shows that the gender of a brand does not have to be similar to the gender of the target audience. A brand fully aware of this is Harley-Davidson. One of world’s most masculine brands started to target the rising group of female riders. The brand did not reduce the masculinity to gain women’s interest, but reduced the barriers to ride a Harley by hosting riding courses and “Garage parties” where women gathered to learn motorcycle skills.
Brand personality & gender
So why is the top-10 Best Global Brands not dominated by highly feminine or masculine brands as Chanel or Harley Davidson? To answer this question, we have to understand how people evaluate gender.
Sexual identity is one of the most clear personality traits of humans. Gender-specific stimuli evoke associations and give an idea of one’s personality.
Lieven et al. proved that this works quite the same in a branding context. Highly masculine or feminine brands evoke more positive associations and are more preferred than gender-neutral brands. A high degree of masculinity/femininity increases the associations and therefore creates a clearer brand personality, which eventually leads to higher preference.
Gender is efficient in clarifying brand personality, but it is not the only thing that counts. Numerous Best Global Brands create clear brand personalities without having a specific gender. Obviously, many more aspects determine Brand Value and preference, than gender or personality alone (e.g. the product/service, it’s relevance, differentiation or heritage)
Although gender is certainly not the only key to brand success, it might be one of the most effective tools when it comes to creating a clear brand personality. A clear gender evokes more favorable association and increases brand preference. Therefore, it might be worthwhile to think of gender when evaluating or (re)positioning a brand. What lessons can we learn?
Embrace your brand’s femininity or masculinity. It does not matter whether brands are masculine or feminine. A specific gender clarifies the personality, increases associations and preference; regardless of gender of the target group.
Ensure a good fit with the overall brand. Brand gender does not stand alone, but interacts with the entire brand. Think about what your brand stands for—what are its values and its proposition? Explore what personality and gender would be most authentic for your brand.
Gender-neutral brands might face a bigger challenge to create a clear brand personality. Yet, a brand personality can include many other attributes than gender alone. The attributes should be clear, specific and should fit together cohesively. Brands require a clear and consistent focus towards the brand personality, gender-neutral brands in particular.
Lieven T. Grohmann B. Herrmann A. Landwehr J.R. Tilburg, van, M. (2014). The Effect of Brand Gender on Brand Equity. Psychology and Marketing, 31, 371–385
Kyle Stock (2014). Can Harley-Davidson Finally Woo Women, Businessweek
Grohmann, B. (2009). Gender dimensions of brand personality. Journal of Marketing Research, 46, 105–119.