Language is one of our most powerful tools. It can create possibility, but it can also constrain how we think and identify ourselves and those around us.
Gender is often one of those constraints. When we use gender as a binary — men/women, masculine/feminine — we reduce something incredibly complex into something easily digestible, but incomplete and limiting. We attempt to use language to organize a world that can feel chaotic and confusing, yet life is often lived so much more in the messy middle than on the poles.
Today’s young people are beginning to reflect this full spectrum, avoiding the binary constraints of generations past. Twenty-three percent of Gen Z expect to change their gender identity at least once in their lifetime, and just 44% say they only buy clothes designed for their gender.
A demand for new words and actions
Fifty-five percent of young people believe the way companies represent gender identity in marketing and advertising partially shape gender stereotypes. Businesses must start to interrogate how they participate in and perpetuate gender biases through the products, campaigns, cultures and decisions they make. Failure to do so will alienate them from a growing segment, cutting them off from opportunities for growth and development.
When you free yourself from the confines of binary gender thinking, you start to ask new questions and address challenges with greater freedom and flexibility. How does ideation look, feel and sound when you no longer use outdated definitions of gender as a starting point?
Meet Fluide: Beauty for all
Fluide is a mission-driven cosmetics brand that creates vegan, cruelty-free and paraben-free beauty products for all skin shades and gender expressions. Founders Isabella Giancarlo and Laura Kraber saw how the beauty industry propped up narrow definitions of gender. They knew the world needed more to address and celebrate the shifting landscape of identity and expression, especially among Gen Z.
Building a brand outside the confines of gender allowed Giancarlo and Kraber to use inclusivity as a starting point, not an adaptation or evolution. They also relied on their target audience to realize the brand vision, ensuring a true product-market fit from the beginning.
Hasbro: Come as you are
Sixty-five percent of Gen Zers want companies to offer more products and services that are not marketed to only one gender, and 50% struggle to make purchases when products only market to one gender, according to a Porter Novelli study. Iconic toy maker Hasbro addressed this tension head on — and it’s worth quoting CEO, Brian Goldner, from an interview with The Hollywood Reporter:
"We look at our brands more inclusively than ever. In fact, we eliminated the old delineation of gender. And if you think about a brand, be it My Little Pony, where 30 percent of our global TV audience is boys, or Star Wars, where we are launching [all-female animated series]... you’re seeing people who want to be engaged in these stories. And we don’t care who they are. We just care that they love that brand.”
Hasbro reimagined how information is organized or searched on its online store. Out with the old (filtering by gender) and in with the new (brand- and interest-based search). By removing gendering obstacles for both children and parents, Hasbro freed customers to experience a legacy brand in new ways.
White Claw: Defying (and redefining) a category
White Claw changed the way millennials drink. It drove the entire hard seltzer category — all while avoiding gender stereotypes in the alcohol beverage industry. Hard seltzer is usually marketed toward women (pink and peach, floral designs, slender typography). White Claw upended this with simple gray and white cans with non-gendered images of waves.
It’s not accurate to call it gender-neutral — it simply doesn’t include gender. Instead of alienating people with whom hyper-feminine branding doesn’t resonate, they drove usage and brand loyalty across a wider, more diverse cohort. While we are far away from a post-gendered world, White Claw’s focus on characteristics, rather than tired gender stereotypes, is refreshingly good business.
Expand gender to unlock innovation
The sun is out — and so are consumers. They’ve left many things, especially when it comes to identity and expression, behind after 18 months of quarantine, and are embracing fewer rules and boundaries. Brands who can expand their idea of gender and throw off its outdated constraints will not only align to an evolving consumer, but create business opportunities.
Understanding gender isn’t just about being inclusive. It’s smart business.
Lisa Kenney, Reimagine Gender and Sandy Skees, Porter Novelli