Embracing gender-inclusive marketing: The imperative for progress and profit

Heriot-Watt University’s Claire Roper-Browning explains the power of gender balance

In the rapidly-evolving marketing landscape, inclusivity has emerged as a crucial pillar for brands seeking to resonate with diverse audiences.

Gender-inclusive marketing strategies have emerged as a powerful tool for brands seeking to connect with diverse audiences and drive engagement and conversion rates in the digital sphere.

In this op-ed, Heriot-Watt University’s Regional Director Claire Roper-Browning explores the transformative impact of gender-inclusive marketing and highlights the successful campaigns resonating with consumers.

Gender-inclusive marketing strategies provide a distinctive opportunity for brands to overcome cultural barriers and establish deeper connections with consumers. This inclusiveness improves brand perception and leads to higher engagement and conversion rates, as consumers tend to react positively to messaging that resonates with their experiences.

Achieving gender balance in marketing has become essential for brands and is a significant connection point for value-driven consumers. Millennials and Gen Z exhibit a heightened awareness of social justice issues and are more likely to support brands that align with their values of inclusivity and equality.

According to a survey by Deloitte, 70 per cent of millennials are more likely to choose brands that demonstrate a commitment to diversity and inclusion. Also, the Ipsos survey states that 76 per cent of respondents agree that advertising can influence perceptions of one another. Iconic campaigns like Nike’s ‘What Are Girls Made Of?’ and Always’ ‘Like A Girl’ have garnered widespread attention from brands and consumers.

Gender bias persists in contemporary advertising. Stereotypes that may have been deemed acceptable in the past now dissuade both women and men from purchasing or using a product. Brands significantly promote women’s empowerment and equality by normalising men’s involvement in everyday tasks, such as sharing household responsibilities or advocating for inclusivity in the workplace.

Brands can contribute to this by eliminating gender stereotypes from their marketing and advertising materials. For instance, rather than exclusively depicting women performing household chores like laundry, emphasise the benefits of shared responsibility.

Brands that successfully navigate social responsibility, sustainability, health, or convenience will continue to earn consumer loyalty.

A recent McKinsey report revealed that nine out of ten Gen Z consumers believe brands are responsible for addressing social concerns. According to a survey conducted by Ipsos, the role and portrayal of women in advertising can influence attitudes towards the evaluation of an ad.

Additionally, when advertisements positively portray women, there is an increased likelihood of positively impacting long-term brand relationships and short-term behaviour change.

In 2019, P&G’s male grooming brand Gillette replaced its long-standing tagline ‘The Best A Man Can Get’ with ‘The Best Men Can Be’ to address toxic masculinity. Similarly, Ariel’s ‘Share the Load’ campaign highlighted the unequal division of household duties.

The Dove Real Beauty campaign, featuring ‘real women’ in its advertising, has transformed the company and society.

In the Middle East, gender-inclusive marketing campaigns have illustrated the impact of inclusive messaging on brand resonance and commercial success. An outstanding instance is the Saudi women’s fashion label Femi9’s initiative to inspire Saudi fashion designers and provide them with opportunities in the business world.

This campaign received acclaim for its empowering message, leading to a notable increase in brand awareness and sales for Femi9. Similarly, Always’ marketing campaigns in the Middle East, beginning with ‘Girls Can’ followed by ‘Generation of Firsts’, ‘New Brave’ and ‘Born Brave’ revolutionised the brand’s equity in the region.

The campaign garnered widespread acclaim for its powerful message of gender equality and authenticity, resonating with audiences across demographics. As a result, Always experienced a significant increase in brand perception and market share.

Additionally, Vodafone Egypt’s campaign, which showcased children questioning the challenges faced by women daily, directly confronted gender stereotypes. This initiative resonated with regional audiences, igniting discussions about gender equality and empowerment.

Vodafone Egypt bolstered its brand reputation and fostered stronger connections with consumers by aligning with progressive values and highlighting diverse perspectives.

Gender-inclusive marketing can drive societal change and promote gender equality in the Middle East. As consumers become increasingly conscious of social issues, brands that embrace inclusivity will likely gain a competitive edge and build stronger connections with their audience.

As the region undergoes ongoing transformation and consumers persist in seeking authenticity and representation from brands, gender-inclusive marketing will become pivotal in facilitating effective brand communication. It will shape perceptions and catalyse significant change for future generations.

It is time for brands in the Middle East to embrace inclusivity and lead the way towards a more equitable and inclusive future.

By Claire Roper-Browning, Regional Director of Marketing Recruitment Admissions and Communications at Heriot-Watt University