herald

Monday 18 December 2017

Men are for Mars, while women live on Galaxies

If you thought gender had nothing to do with food, think again. Targeting by sex is the ad industry's secret weapon, says Meg Carter

Galaxy or Yorkie? Walkers Sensations or McCoy's? The choices we make at the supermarket checkout are less down to personal taste or preference than we might like to think.

Forget sexual stereotyping, gender targeting is the latest mantra as food marketers exploit the hidden cues in the packaged foods and drinks we buy. It's what makes Food Doctor Easy Goodness Roasted Basil Chicken with Puy Lentils & Spelt more appealing to many women than the prospect of a bowl of Mr Brain's Pork Faggots.

Take Eve, a light alcoholic drink being launched soon by brewing giant Carlsberg. It's not just in the name. The drink is flavoured with exotic fruits like lychee and passion fruit, the logo is looped and curling.

Eve is, the company boldly declares, "a synonym for women and femininity". Or Koko by Cadbury, the confectioner's recently-launched chocolate gift selection which, aside from the passing nod to Coco Chanel in its name, underlines its fashionista credentials with luxurious pink and brown, ribboned packaging, and was sold alongside exclusive Koko-inspired silver necklaces designed by fashion label PPQ.

Then consider Pot Noodle Doner Kebab with its meaty promise of Turkish lamb in a black plastic tub and neon logo described by Graham Walker, flavour development manager at Unilever, the food company behind it, as "the ultimate man-food snack".

Or Wrigley's 5, the eponymous gum manufacturer's new sugar-free gum. With assorted flavours boasting names like Cobalt and Pulse, and its predominantly black, ribbed packaging, some have likened the packaging design to a box of condoms.

"Food companies have many cues to play around with when it comes to making sure they attract the particular consumers they want to appeal to. Actual content, flavour, and consistency are just the beginning," says consumer psychologist Cathrine Jansson-Boyd of Anglia Ruskin University in England.

"We tend to purchase things that are an extension of who we are and who we want to be seen to be -- that's why much marketing is still channelled along gender lines, albeit increasingly subtly, and food is just another extension of this."

In the drinks market, for example, lager is predominantly, if not exclusively, marketed at young men around the world.

"Beer marketing has a long tradition of targeting men through male humour and sport," says Harriet Easton, who brews her own beers in England and hopes to market Harry's Beer, a drink for women in Britain and beyond.

She says that attempts by the world's established brewers to woo women drinkers are a "logical next step", and long overdue. Molson Coors, for one, recently trialled a women's lager flavoured with dragon fruit and green tea, and has since launched a campaign to encourage women's appreciation of beer.

Foster's has come up with Foster's Twist, "an easy drinking beer with a hint of citrus", designed to appeal to the female palate. Heineken, meanwhile, has developed a ladies' cider, Charli.

Yet while a number of brewers have talked about developing women's lagers, there has been a tendency to hold back from overtly positioning them as such -- perhaps for fear of alienating the male drinkers they already have. It's a suggestion that Easton reluctantly endorses. Though Harry's Beer has been designed to appeal to women -- each bottle features women's silhouettes -- the name, inspired by her own, was chosen to be gender-neutral so as not to alienate men.

Chocolate, in contrast, is a product category dominated by female-focused brands, despite being consumed by both sexes in equal numbers. The more indulgent the product, however, the more feminine-focused the brand, according to Jill McCall, Cadbury brand manager for Koko. She draws a clear distinction between chocolate intended for self-indulgence and what she calls "hunger bars" like Boost or Double Decker, which by being big and chunky appeal more to the male desire to use chocolate to satisfy hunger.

"A large proportion of boxed chocolates are bought by women for women because men are often scared of getting it wrong," she adds. "Women, however, tend to follow a debit-credit system when it comes to chocolate consumption, which means that if they indulge now they must compromise on something else later. So, if they are going to indulge, it had better taste, look and feel perfect."

Colour is a common gender cue found in a wide array of food and drinks packaging, and so is shape. "Whether a bottle or packet is curved or straight matters. Women are naturally drawn to rounded contours, even if they claim otherwise; sales prove it. Labels, too, tend to be more decorative, with more detailed patterning and lighter colour tones," says Jansson-Boyd.

On-pack messaging also has a role to play, she adds, with products clearly marked "low-calorie" or "healthy" predominantly aimed at, and bought by, women. Any suggestion of a health expert's endorsement or nutritionist's advice -- for example, the perceived connotations that can be drawn from the brand name Food Doctor -- also creates female appeal.

"As soon as you put 'Diet' or 'Light' in a name, the product is generally perceived as being aimed more at women, even though many men are now as calorie-conscious," says Penny Segal, head of strategy at brand development consultancy Brandhouse. "It's why Pepsi and Coke have been doing smart jobs with Pepsi Max and Coke Zero -- offering the low-cal benefit desired in a new, male way." That said, not all products presented to appeal to women are solely intended for women to consume.

"Although more men are living alone, and more men than ever now share domestic chores, the majority of grocery shopping is still done by women and food brands simply can't afford to ignore that," says Jon Howard-Spink, strategy and planning director at advertising agency Quiet Storm, whose clients include Kerry Foods.

David Williamson, the marketing director at Kerry -- whose brands include Mr Brain's Pork Faggots and LowLow cheese -- endorses this. "A product like LowLow has a female skew because we position it as healthier, but that's so that we appeal to her as the primary shopper, who acts as gatekeeper and guardian of her family's health," he explains. "While there is some male bias given to products with meaty textures, our aim is to push the appeal of all the food products we make to as wide a market as possible."

Mr Brain's Pork Faggots is, he says, a case in point. In the Mr Brain's commercial now running on TV, the man of the house is presented as a hero for fixing the stair carpet and rewarded accordingly, and the product is presented to women as "a real man's meal". "There is a recognition that we know you know this is irony," says Jon Howard-Spink. "Yet there is a grain of truth in the old idea that satisfying the stomach is the quickest way to a man's heart."

Sexual stereotyping or gender targeting?

hnews@herald.ie

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