Gender Marketing Stereotypes

10 April 2023
Reading: 2 min

What is gender stereotyping in marketing? Check out the chocolate bar released for Commonwealth of Independent States in 2005:

Gender Marketing Stereotypes

Nestle for men: to be protected from women, milk chocolate (translation)

How questionable this segregation is? And what are the consequences for marketers, society, and individuals? Read the article to learn the answers and gain new insights.

A history lesson

Gender discrimination and prejudice in advertising have been around for decades. For example, in 1951 the following ad was released (left), which also was reimagined later to give the taste of their medicine to men (right).

Gender Marketing Stereotypes

An ad like that released today would be outrageous, at least in Tier-1 countries. But the ad was released 80 years ago, when the context was different, and the target audience was accustomed to segregation of all kinds. If that was not the case, the company would not last long enough to see the modern days.

Gender marketing

While the case above is an extreme, gender-based products are essential, because of different biological needs and metabolism, e.g., hygiene products, underwear, and medical services. A more questionable topic is the gender segregation in ads for products that can be used by both sexes interchangeably, e.g., toys, vitamins, or deodorants.

There is a theory that marketologists maintain such gender division artificially to rake up profit. Instead of buying a doll for the son and daughter, the parents would have to purchase two gender-tailored dolls to meet the expectations of society. Another point of view states that this segregation helps to shape the values that would benefit marketologists. A boy who learned in childhood that every self-respecting man ought to own a good suit and a Swiss watch will be more inclined to buy these items when entering adulthood.

Probably the majority of Europeans are hardwired into thinking that blue is for boys and pink for girls. Sure, a black suit for males with a pink shirt is a notable exception, but in general such anchors facilitate the marketing. When you know exactly which color matches a specific gender, designing the creatives become easier.

Related issues

Using a specific color palette for accentuating the differences between sexes is not a problem in itself. After all, the football or racing teams wear different uniform sets and the color schemes do not make anybody inferior. The issue arises when people distort this color allegiance, using the Overton window.

Shifting normality, or Overton window, puts boundaries to what is normal, but the framing is not constant. By slowly shifting the public opinion, you can make the unbelievable a norm. Starting off with assigning colors, the society can start producing blue-colored magazines about gadgets and inventions for boys and pink-colored fashion magazines for girls.

Gender Marketing Stereotypes

Then, based on the magazines, people may start to think that boys are technocrats and inventors — tinkerers in a nutshell. Girls on the other hand may appear more outgoing and lightheaded — all because a single magazine can launch a trend, based on color allegiance. Plus, people are prone to using mental shortcuts, a.k.a. bias thinking.

This prejudice would grow as a snowball and affect both manufacturers and marketers. Next products can humble men’s unwarranted rationality and women’s unwarranted carelessness. The ads, like in case of Nestle in the beginning, can start exploiting the idea of one’s gender exclusivity. This is dangerous because sexism, or reverse sexism, is the next step — you get the idea of the Overton window.

In this fictional scenario, getting back right away to the idea that men can be careless and women can be technicians would not be easy — society would discard such assumption as abnormal. On the one hand, gender marketing eases the task of designing an ad that would please a certain audience, because the marker knows from the get-go what works and appeals. On the other, the marketer becomes a hostage to the prejudices the society holds.

Since the goal of marketing is to please the audience, thinking outside the prejudices becomes impossible. If so, then each subsequent, pro-prejudice ad cements the malevolent idea, making the task of breaking the vicious circle even harder.

The implications of the insights

Whether you are a publisher, affiliate, media buyer, or advertiser, you have no choice but to serve the society, or your target audience at best. You need to know what your clientele wants and meet the expectations for the conversion to fire. If, for example, you drive adult traffic, then you most likely won’t be able to get away without sexual objectification.

Social justice, universal equality, freedom of speech are all great and stuff, but mankind is also driven by instincts. You can’t just turn a blind eye to this fact, or your competitors will leave you behind, biting the dust. Seven cardinal sins illustrate perfectly what humans are prone to. They are alive and well for a reason, and these sins are not something to be rooted out that easily with loud words and inspirational mottos.

It’s best to know who your target audience is, for opinions differ, all people are biased, and the mood changes. Whether your target audience might support the idea of fixed gender roles (e.g., UAE, partially CIS) or appreciate equal rights and opportunities (Tier-1 communities) your job is to see through the values and humble them with your products and ad campaigns.


Gender stereotypes are a phenomenon that can’t be ignored. Are they bad? Perhaps. But the job of marketers is to sell the product, not to chase the universal truth. If your target audience strongly supports gender stereotypes, you can’t simply ignore that fact.

Should you enforce gender stereotypes yourself to the audience? No, period. Whatever your system of beliefs is, you should not enforce it on anybody. Marketing is about a different kind of conversion, not the religious one. Your job is to sell the product, which can be achieved only after meeting the expectations of the audience. Their beliefs are not your beliefs, you are simply serving their needs and desires for a payout.

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