Last summer, Target decided to stop separating toys into different sections for boys and girls. The thinking seems to be that kids are perfectly capable of figuring out what they want to play with, no gender-based signage required.
According to many of the world’s biggest product manufacturers and their marketing teams, however, the same cannot be said of grownups—who are constantly, puzzlingly pitched items as sex-specific even though there’s nothing inherently male or female about them. On the surface, products like men’s (or women’s) bread seem like complete nonsense. Can’t we all just break bread—the same kind—together?
Beneath the surface, well, most of these products still seem pretty much like highly mockable nonsense. At the very least, they seem wholly unnecessary. Does the world really need beef jerky or pens made just for women?
Yet marketing experts would say that gender-specific pitches not only validate overlooked niche audiences, they also help people navigate today’s confusing, overcrowded marketplace. What’s weird isn’t the idea of men’s bread or Legos for girls, the branding expert Harry Beckwith explained in one interview. “What is weird is us,” he said. “And marketers just play to our weirdness. Sometimes, the results look silly because, again like us, marketers are silly, too. Plus there’s a huge market for bad taste and even one for hideous, you-must-be-kidding taste.”
That’s a good way of describing some of these inexplicably gender-specific products.
Go Girl Energy Drink
Red Bull has a bull (male!) right in the brand name, so how can you expect women to drink it? Monster Energy doesn’t sound all that female-friendly either. Hence the introduction of the Go Girl line of low-carb, sugar-free energy drinks. Interestingly, feminists aren’t necessarily fans: Ms. bashed Go Girl because it “uses patronizing language” and is “color-coded to be gender specific,” as well as the way it “insults women by ‘diet-ing’ their drinks.”
Kleenex Mansize Tissues
Apparently, plain old frilly tissues are too girly for a man’s needs. So Kleenex in the UK introduced the “original big tissue,” which was mocked by Jezebel as the perfect option “when sleeves and socks simply won’t do.”
When it debuted in 2013, the Powerful brand of yogurt embraced its nickname of “brogurt” because, after all, it was being pitched specifically to men. It was served in “man-size” 8-ounce cups with manly black-and-red packaging, and as the company website put it: “we decided to develop a new Greek yogurt specifically suited to address the unique health and nutrition needs of the most neglected consumers in the category: men.” Recently, however, Powerful has adopted a more gender neutral approach, targeting active, health-minded consumers regardless of sex, as has another high-protein yogurt, ProYo.
Crispello Chocolate for Women
Women, like most people on earth, love chocolate—perhaps even more than sex. So why would candy giant Cadbury feel compelled to release Crispello, a chocolate bar specifically designed for women? Well, the idea is that Crispello would be especially appealing to women because it’s low in calories (165 per bar), and because it comes as three separate portions so (theoretically) it can be consumed as three snacks rather than scarfed down whole in one sitting. Unsurprisingly, critics described Crispello as “offensive” and “condescending.”
Bounce Fabric Softener Sheets for Men
The “Pure Sport” version of Bounce from Procter & Gamble was marketed to “men and those who smell like them.” The concept struck people as so Neanderthal that they naturally wrote mock reviews of the product on Amazon. “I am a straight woman and I made the mistake of purchasing this,” one reviewer wrote. “I now have a beard, and although I can inexplicably now surf and shoot a three-pointer and tame wild grizzly bears at the same time, I must admit my clothes are fresh.” Another reviewer complained of false advertising: “I tried it and thought I would smell like I made $.23 cents more an hour, as promised, but nope.”
Bic for Her Pen
This one has to be the most infamous and laughable example of a product marketed to one gender for mystifying reasons. The release of Bic’s “for Her” line of lady pens brought out the snark in everyone, including a mock endorsement by Ellen Degeneres on her talk show and more than 2,000 funny reviews Amazon. “I was dissapointed [sic] to find that only one fifth of the pens I recieved were pink,” one reviewer wrote. “Or, maybe more, I can’t do maths.”
Signal White Now Men Toothpaste
At first glance, you might think that this toothpaste released by Unilever in 2014 is not only sexist, but racist as well. But Signal was introduced as “the world’s first toothpaste designed specifically for men” of all ethnicities (apparently, the “white” is about teeth, not skin color). “Men are more at risk of staining and yellowness as they are heavier users of coffee, tea, tobacco and wine,” Unilever explained. Therefore, they need a tough toothpaste that can handle their manly, tooth-staining habits.
Dodge La Femme
The automobile might seem like a fairly gender-neutral product. Yet automakers and marketers are constantly crafting messages to make vehicles particularly appealing to different demographics. Subaru has been targeting lesbians with ad campaigns for decades, and there have been plenty of attempts to pitch “macho” minivans to men. The strategy actually stretches back at least to the 1950s, when the Dodge La Femme was introduced specifically for women complete with female-friendly paint jobs in colors like “Heather Rose” and “Regal Orchid.” At the time, pretty much every car on the market was pitched directly or indirectly to men.
Tide Plus Febreze Sport
While the packaging of Tide Plus Febreze Sport now features an athletic woman running in mid-stride, the product was pitched squarely at guys a few years ago. Back then, the laundry detergent bottles showed New Orleans’ Saints quarterback Drew Breeze front and center, and TV host Nick Lachey as the “manly” spokesperson. The image Procter & Gamble was hoping to distill with its manly laundry detergent with “victory fresh scent” was that, “These dads aren’t hapless, they’re real guys who know what they’re doing,” a company executive explained to the Wall Street Journal. But perhaps they don’t know how to figure out just the right detergent to buy.
Though it’s not the only “lager for ladies” that’s hit the market, Chick Beer—which apparently is out of business for the time being—has attracted the most attention, likely because of the hot-button name as well as packaging that resembles a pink purse. “Dumbing women drinkers down to the lowest common beer denominator does not legitimize our presence in the marketplace,” one self-proclaimed lady beer nerd summed up in a rant. “If we buy this product, it makes women look just as foolish and blind as men who drink a certain beer because the ads communicate that beer makes them manly, will get them laid, or just that they think talking frogs are funny.”
Dr. Pepper Ten
Les Grossman, the hairy, meaty-armed, ultra-aggressive Hollywood producer played by Tom Cruise in “Tropic Thunder,” was confident enough in his manhood to drink Diet Coke by the case. To some men, however, diet soda is just not for dudes. That is, until the release of Dr. Pepper Ten, the 10-calorie soft drink released with the slogan “No Girls Allowed,” as well as silly over-the-top advertising featuring macho men doing ultra-macho stuff with the accompaniment of a macho diet soda.
The so-called “pink tax” is most apparent in that razors that are painted pink and presented in female-friendly packaging—and almost always cost more than razors pitched to men. This is despite the fact that the razors in question generally function the same way and are identical outside of their appearance and marketing push.