Let go of gender stereotypes – it’s lazy marketing

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My almost four-year-old daughter is besotted with Disney’s Frozen. It is the first popular cultural phenomenon she and we as parents have been exposed to.

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We are far from alone, of course. Children and parents worldwide go to bed and wake every day to the strains of Let it Go. My daughter, however, believes a select group only should enjoy the adventures of Anna and Elsa. ‘Frozen is for girls, not boys’ she pointed out to one of her peer group recently, a boy, as he shimmied by in his Elsa dress.

When prompted by my partner to explain her assertion, her less than reasoned argument was ‘only girls can play with Frozen toys’. Putting aside the fact that she’s three and 10 months and therefore her polemics are fantastically unreasonable, my partner and I were left at a loss as to how she could have reached this conclusion. We are liberal-minded souls and have been careful to avoid anything that might be considered gender stereotyping, so we were a little puzzled.

It doesn’t need a child psychologist to understand why, however. A flick through several national newspapers this morning found a number of ads advertising ‘half-term’ toy offers featuring a girl modelling a princess outfit and a boy in dynamic pose sporting a Spider-Man outfit. My daughter is not a regular reader of Her Majesty’s press but the message is loud and clear all around her – there are brands for girls and brands for boys.

I am not about to launch into a diatribe about how marketers are playing their part in maintaining antiquated and potentially damaging gender stereotypes. However, the above is an example of lazy marketing. Marketing Week’s ‘Why Brand’s Are Losing Relevance with Girls‘ report this week draws a damning conclusion – defaulting to the norm in marketing to girls could put off as many as it attracts.

Marketers need to be wise to the nuances as much as they are the norms. There are millions of boys worldwide playing with Elsa dolls and there are plenty of girls interested in superheroes. Any success in bridging the gender divide seems to often be by accident rather than design.

Brands have a responsibility not to cement gender stereotypes, but as important as playing their part as good corporate citizens is that they are missing out on huge commercial opportunities by conforming to tried, tested but tired thinking.

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