Gender difference in product preference – setting the record straight

Function tends to be central to advertising products to men, whilst appearance has been core to targeting women.

Ever since billboards first came into existence, ‘pretty’ products have historically been designed and positioned with women in mind and continue to be so today. We know this to be true and whilst overt sexism has definitely shifted, the approach in general is still apparent.

Now a new study looks at lay beliefs around advertising to different genders and throws up some interesting – albeit not unexpected – results.

Think 1950s car advertising for women in which ‘smart gay colours’ and a ‘really large luggage trunk’ are important for her, whereas he wants ‘more miles per gallon’ and ‘good acceleration’. Today, check out image results after searching online for ‘face moisturiser women’ (lifestyle photos, plenty of skin, pink backgrounds) and compare to ‘face moisturiser men’ (lots and lots of pack shots… barely a face to be seen).

The indirect suggestion is that women have a stronger preference than men for product form over functionality.

This belief was recently put to the test by a team, whose research discovered that it is inconsistent with actual preferences.

Publishing results from 11 studies in the Journal of Consumer Research, the key findings are:

  • People tend to choose form-superior (vs function-superior) products for women;
  • Women do not choose form-superior (vs function-superior) products for themselves more than men.

The team highlights that ‘both marketers and consumers hold such a belief about gender difference and overpredict females’ preference for form-superior (vs function-superior) products relative to males’. And the flip side is that men choose form over function for themselves as much as women do.

Of course we don’t all want the same things and it’s okay to advertise products for men, to men. However, a fresh look at how we advertise to both genders will yield better results all round. Like all of society, it’s time to release entrenched assumptions and take stock of our approach to gender, together.

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