Millennials and Gender Fluidity — What Smart Brands are Doing and Why
Traditional portrayals of femininity and masculinity based on gender are becoming blurred, as androgyny and gender fluidity become the norm, rather than the exception. When it comes to gender, we are in the midst of a cultural shift—and it’s being driven by millennials.
Savvy brands looking to connect with this unconventional demographic are rethinking strategies, throwing away plans based on stereotypes, and tackling gender norms in how they advertise and in the products they offer. Here are some thoughts on millennials and gender fluidity, and what smart brands are doing and why.
Tearing Down Gender Stereotypes and Embracing Gender Fluidity
Millennials have been defying labels and rejecting judgment in all things since we coined the term millennial. It’s nothing new. Embracing a blurred gender to reflect a more fluid world just makes sense. In fact, at a time when gender identity and gender roles are dominating the conversation, the move shouldn’t seem so controversial. For most millennials, traditional gender classifications simply don’t work anymore.
A recent Fusion poll found that 50 percent of millennials believe gender is actually a spectrum, and that “some people fall outside of conventional categories.” Another survey by GLAAD found that more than one in ten (12%) of Millennials actually identify as transgender or gender non-conforming, meaning they don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth.
In this new social landscape, gender stereotypes are outdated, and in many cases, just plain insulting. We’re choosing unisex names for our daughters, using gender neutral pronouns to refer to our friends, dressing our newborns in pink and blue, and buying Barbie dolls for our sons as a reflection of “self-expression, fashion, imagination and storytelling.”
We’re also embracing new gender roles at home, shedding outdated philosophies about who should do what and when. We’re sharing responsibilities in a way that showcases our belief that men and women no longer have traditional roles and behaviors. From 1989 to 2012, stay-at-home dads increased from 1.1 million to 2 million according to the U.S. Census Bureau—and the numbers keep growing.
In the workplace, the gender pay gap is starting to unravel as forward thinking companies set the stage for gender equality by empowering women and prioritizing family needs.
Millennials Are Talking—Are Brands Listening?
Millennials may be driving the conversation on gender evolution in society, and male-female stereotypes are losing favor culturally, but are brands listening? Smart brands are, and they’re running toward the gender fluid space. Banana Republic’s baby clothing line is a perfect example. The line is more popular than ever. But walk the aisle and it’s tough to find pink or blue on the shelves. Instead, the company opted to replace its traditional offering with a unisex collection suitable for both boys and girls.
Fashion isn’t the only industry listening to the millennial voice, cosmetics and fragrance brands are working overtime to create products that appeal to every consumer, male or female. Sephora’s 2017 holiday ads are all-inclusive and feature both male and female Beauty Advisors. And last year, Calvin Klein launched fragrance CK2, a sequel to the 1994 unisex classic CK One. CK One was the world’s first unisex fragrance, but Calvin Klein deemed this recent fragrance as “gender free” in an effort to celebrate fluidity while “embracing how millennials explore their relationships, friendships, and sexualities.”
Millennials aren’t the only ones talking about gender. Gen Z, or those born after 1998, have a strong voice, too. With annual purchasing power of $44 billion, this demographic is only expected to grow in strength, making up a staggering 40 percent of the consumer base by 2020.
The Key for Brands is to Resonate with a Lifestyle, Not a Gender
The challenge for brands looking to connect with millennials by tapping into gender fluidity is twofold. It’s not enough to recognize how your products and services are being used; you also need to reflect that reality. In other words, brands need to craft an effective strategy that resonates with a lifestyle, not a gender.
Millennials have made it clear: consumer behavior is now a function of personality. Whether it’s ambition, athleticism, or honesty, attributes drive purchases, not gender. Smart brands will focus on universal character traits and passions. (Iconoculture, May 2016)
Adding it All Up
As millennials continue to reject labels and stereotypes, traditional lines and definitions of gender identity are likely to become even more blurred. A new definition will take shape, with brands looking to align with this cultural movement by targeting millennials with campaigns and advertising that show they truly understand how a lack of labels is good not just for society, but business.
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.