Mumbai: In these times of thinning demand, advertisers are rediscovering the virtues of gender bending—positioning brands to transcend gender straitjackets and widen the customer base.
New terrain: Brands such as Sony and TVS are feminizing their products to widen the customer base. Experts say that with budgets getting smaller, families will tend to buy products that can be used by all.
For instance, electronic goods that traditionally spoke more to men are now jumping the gender divide to include women, according to K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd.
Sony Corp.’s latest campaign for Vaio Pocket PC is a case in point. Its ad shows a young woman with a notebook tucked into her pocket.
A few years ago, feminizing a consumer electronics product generally meant creating a pink or pastel version of the same black or silvery item coveted by men, says Takakiyo Fujita, general manager, marketing, Sony India. “However, for Sony, feminizing technology is more about a product’s fundamentals, often expressed in its ease of use. It is not always aimed exclusively at women, but it is female-friendly.”
A bigger shift has happened in the marketing of insurance and financial products, says Anil Nair, president, Law and Kenneth India.
The Jeetey Raho campaign of ICICI Prudential Life Insurance Co. Ltd illustrates the change. It depicts a woman as the decision maker in investment matters. The new Visa ad campaign, too, only talks about and depicts women.
“There was a time when financial products used to feel that women don’t understand money matters, which is why their ads circled around men,” says Nair. Today these product campaigns are showing women as the chief catalysts in investment decisions, he says.
Mobile phone brands such as Nokia and Virgin Mobile also now have women protagonists in their ads. Nokia’s endorser is actor Priyanka Chopra; earlier, it was actor Shah Rukh Khan, Nair points out. “These shifts are happening because masculine categories and products are now trying to reach out to women as well.”
Just as some brands have started talking more to women, others that typically targeted them are now reaching out to men as well. Gender-oriented brands will suffer in today’s milieu, says Aditya Agarwal, director of personal beauty care products company Emami Ltd. When families are left with smaller budgets, he adds, they will buy products that can be used by everyone.
Hindustan Unilever Ltd’s Dove Haircare, though seen as a feminine brand, is the sponsor for the action-packed Hindi film Race on Zee Cinema. Globally, both men and women use Dove.
Emami launched a fairness cream for men in 2005 called Fair and Handsome. “From female-oriented products, we made an entry into male-oriented fairness products and it’s working well for the group,” says Agarwal.
Categories such as automobiles are also looking more closely at women, say some ad men. TVS Motor Co. Ltd’s unisex scooter Scooty Streak features tennis player Sania Mirza and displays her good and evil sides. The tag line says, “Tough bike with trendy features.” Similarly, Hero Honda Motors Ltd’s ad for its Pleasure brand scooter has the tag line, “Why should boys have all the fun?”
“Some years back there wouldn’t have been a scooter trying to reach out to women,” says Leo Burnett’s Sridhar. “There’s been a shift to aesthetics in these categories because they are trying to reach out to women buyers.”
Arvind Singhal, chairman of retail advisory Technopak Advisors Pvt. Ltd, says India’s apparel market was dominated by male brands a few years ago. Today, most such brands are also trying to bring out products for women, he says. “Allen Solly and ColorPlus launched smart casuals for women. Also, Provogue got into women’s wear.”
Singhal says that as the economy slows, more apparel brands may bring out new product lines or brand extensions that cater to a different gender.
Still, the so-called masculine brands that bring out feminine lines under the same brand name could lose out on their core attributes. “It’s best if you do it via a sub-brand or another brand name altogether,” Singhal advises.
One expert says such gender stretching is about tapping latent opportunity. “It’s a natural evolution of society and brands,” says Suman Srivastava, CEO of ad agency Euro RSCG Pvt. Ltd. “You need to enter new segments and improve market share.”