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Bounded by the Binary

In recent years the impact of gender fluidity has been highlighted in pop culture, with notable members of different industries declaring their gender a construct and not linked to a person's sex.

WARC recently published Sex, Brains, and Advertising, discussing the neuroscience behind the idea of the 'gendered brain', and how messaging and stimuli are impacting the industry's view of the construct of gender. Looking back at advertising through the decades, there's a clear line of reference to gender in countless global campaigns. These recent openings in the conversation have led more advertisers to understand that basing their activity on gender steeped in stereotyping is not beneficial to public opinion and business success.

In 2020, here at the7stars, we released our whitepaper 'Beyond the Binary', partnered with Sign Salad and Neuro-Insight, outlining actions brands can take into their thinking and planning to understand the societal shift to a flexible binary that so many in our day and age feel represents them. With 75% of Gen-Z more likely to believe in gender fluidity than previous generations (Beyond the Binary, 2020), it is imperative that brands are listening to their ever-evolving customers and that telling stories that reflect them and their lives will resonate with generations to come.

Following our own insight and advice, we implemented this non-binary viewpoint in our recent audience research with John Frieda. In previous activity, a traditional female audience was targeted but, after analysing data, we saw that 1 in 5 of their customers were males. Seeing a gap in the market, we built audiences based on their attitude to beauty as opposed to gender which meant that, whilst still heavily skewed to females, we are not excluding a key demographic.

De-gendering from the get-go must be at the forefront of the mind, and not an occasional spin on advertising. Brands have an opportunity to increase representation and understanding that this is not just about gender, but the movement to a more fluid and expansive definition of identity. Intersectionalities are deeply intertwined and, with cultural incidents such as Roe vs Wade in the US and BLM being at the centre of the cultural conversation, it highlights the intrinsic link between identity, social conversation and commitments brands can make to the dialogue.

We advocate three steps advertisers can take now:

  • Constantly question gender demographics: By always looking at whether advertising needs to be bound by binaries, it's making way for new insight and analysis for brands' audiences.
  • Highlight stereotypes and change them: Representation is key and reversing traditional views on gender will open brands up to modern and relevant conversations in society and business.
  • Creativity is key: By looking at Dove's 2022 Cannes winning campaign, we see how gender is so closely linked to age, race, and identity. Representing different communities in ads keeps brands relevant and effective in their storytelling.