The problem with gender-specific and age-specific marketing

The problem with gender-specific and age-specific marketing

Brands should realize by now that women want to be heard, even if that includes munching on snack food.

PepisCo learned this the hard way recently when word got out it might be mulling a new version of Doritos aimed specifically at women. On a recent episode of the Freakonomics podcast, PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi implied that the company was considering launching snacks specifically for women. The Twittersphere erupted as consumers quickly chimed in to make fun of what they saw as misstep for the brand.

To be fair to PepisCo, it’s not alone when it comes to developing products and campaigns specifically for certain genders or demographics, such as Millennials or Gen Z. And PepsiCo recently clarified that the whole “Lady Doritos” affair is nothing more than a little misunderstanding—the company is actually not developing new Doritos for women. But this little kerfuffle is a reminder that we live in an age when many consumers resist stereotypes, so marketers must find better ways of developing personas that reflect the reality of consumers’ lives.

While segmenting by age group or gender can be a good starting point, and usually harmless, marketers should dig deeper and pay more attention to the lifestyles and attitudes of their customers.

It’s not just about gender

Doritos telling women they’re “not man enough to handle chips” is not the only way brands have screwed up by relying too heavily on segmentation. A few years ago, BIC was subjected to ridicule for making pens that were comfortable for women.

And the missteps aren’t just campaigns aimed at women. Marketers are putting lot of effort into targeting Millennials to offset the fact they’re ruining everything, as well as wooing Gen Z. Even Vision Critical has done studies on the demographics because it’s better than targeting everyone with the same message. But there have been several millennial marketing misfires as well.

As Albizu Garcia writes for AdWeek, Millennials are often oversimplified as one cohesive group. In the case of a notorious Chevy campaign, they’re depicted as trendy, bearded hipsters glued to their smartphones, when in fact, this describes a small percentage of the 75 million people in this cohort. Chevy’s reductive portrayal of Millennials was so badly received by audiences that it prompted a parody version, and it’s an excellent example of why brands should avoid targeting this generation as a general niche.

It goes the other way, too

While Millennials and Gen Z are coveted demographics, at the other end of the spectrum are Boomers, who also have disposable income.

It’s also a generation that comes with many stereotypes that are tempting to marketers, such as being technophobes. However, the potential that social media has to reach Boomers and seniors is starting to yield fruit. In 2016, 72% of American adults between the ages of 50 and 64 were on Facebook, according to Pew Research, as were 62% of those over 65, and those numbers are set to increase.

The bottom line is that all demographics are diverse within themselves, and brands must avoid falling into the trap of thinking they’re big blob of uniformity.

To avoid fiascos, go deeper

The Doritos and Chevy missteps demonstrates what happens when brands overgeneralize and oversimplify. Marketers need to dig deeper and segment larger groups, whether it’s genders or generations, to find opportunities in undiscovered niches and consider all aspects of a customer.

Segmenting by age group or gender may be useful as a starting point, but ultimately, marketers must build better personas that also reflect the lifestyle of their customers. Taking into consider the attitudes, emotion and intent of customers is particularly important in identifying personas. This investment will enable marketers to develop products and campaigns that will resonate in the market—and avoid the wrath of angry consumers.

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