18 December 2015
It may be time to throw the proverbial "baby out with the bathwater" given the gender-blurring proclivities of 80-million plus Millennials, now 18-32 and the largest generation to ever exist.

Powerhouse brands such as Bic and Honda are finding that this group isn’t very receptive to tried-and-true male and female societal roles, and even color palettes, long the way to differentiate baby girls from boys in their early years and shape their future aesthetic preferences. And Gen Z, the 5-17-year-olds coming up right behind them, are simpatico; they find gender-specific products a turnoff.

Bic learned the hard way when the company developed a line of thinner, pastel-colored writing instruments for women and raised the price point, according to a Harvard Business Review blog. Rather than appealing to the consumer demographic they wanted, Bic wound up alienating them. Just see the reviews women posted to Amazon.com. Similarly, Honda’s debut of a pink Misfit coupe with wrinkle-blocking window tinting landed with a thud, noted Ad Age.

What does this mean for food and beverage makers and marketers?

Clearly big changes are in store for the industry.

Millennials and Gen Z do not limit themselves to traditional gender roles—especially the females. Consider the female students at the University of Maryland, who began joining the school’s boxing club several years ago. Three women grew to more than one-third of the club in a short time, notes USA Today. Men are also taking on nontraditional hobbies like cooking, described here in Gen Z Eating Habits Make Brands Rethink Products.

A Northwestern University professor attributed the desire to be able to choose gender identity at will to the Internet, specifically playing computer games against competitors worldwide whose gender one doesn’t necessarily know, according to USA Today. And living so much of their lives virtually—gaming, communicating and even shopping—helps explain why nearly two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Zs believe gender lines are blurred, according to a study by the Intelligence Group reported in USA Today.

A similar number agree that their generations are “pushing boundaries,” reports the same article. Having ‘lived online’ from an early age, Millennials have also changed the nation’s purchasing habits and see no reason not to shop there, too.

For the food and beverage industry, this means developing an awareness of how these cohorts view gender identities and create packaging that appeals to both genders without alienating consumers of either sex. Companies will also need to consider this when developing children’s products because young parents will likely apply gender-blurred thinking when they shop for their kids, too.

Here’s what to keep in mind when marketing to Millennial and Gen Z shoppers:
 
  • Marketing to both genders. If a product has been traditionally geared toward men, figure out a way to draw female shoppers or vice versa. He cited yogurt, which has previously been geared toward women and today, has been repackaged to attract men who seek a protein source for workouts.
  • Including men where they have been excluded. While many women still conduct a majority of household shopping, men are getting in the game more as families balance busy schedules. Cutting-edge grocery stores have taken notice and reconfigured the aisles and décor to appeal to men, too.
  • Blurring gender lines in children’s products, too. Don’t expect parents to buy a toy for a boy because it’s blue or to paint their daughter’s room pink. Millennials and Gen Z parents are allowing their children to explore their gender identities and not limiting them to traditional stereotypes.
To learn more about gender blurring in marketing how it has evolved, read Marketing to Millennials, Unisex Sells.

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