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May 27, 2016

Emma Dicks explains why gender clichés in retail are fast disappearing

Sport suffers from its fair share of clichés. Whether a player is taking it one game at a time or your team finds itself in a game of two halves, you can only hope it has a winning mentality.

But regardless of which sport you follow, one thing it’s increasingly not is a man’s game.

Stereotypes vanishing
Thankfully, traditional gender clichés in sport are fast disappearing. No one who saw the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada last year or is a regular watcher of Women’s Super League would suggest women can’t play football.

Retail is also full of clichés, the most common being that men run screaming from stores. Despite many sports traditionally being male dominated, their ability to excel in the sport of shopping is not one for which they are particularly famed.

But here too it’s increasingly about inclusivity. Sports brands know older gender stereotypes of who follows or participates in what sport have collapsed. As a result, marketers have to look at retail communication, and what will appeal, with a much broader lens.

Reinforce core values
So instead of getting caught up in appealing to traditional gender cues that dominate retail displays for football and rugby related products - where heavy use of black and harsh lighting abound - brands should now be focusing on reinforcing core values.

From the key visual graphics used on retail displays to hero products, to the use of shape, colour and messaging in-store, traditional approaches are fast losing their relevance amongst shoppers.

While brands such as Nike brought us warmer, softer environments through its flagship retail experiences, others continue to struggle. Brands in this space are being forced to question long-held strategies for shopper engagement.

Does a display designed to promote the latest line of football boots resonate with the product’s entire shopper audience? Should the brand continue to view female shoppers as the niche or the next, an emerging market that could deliver much-needed sales growth in a mature sector?

Some sports already have an advantage. Running, for example, is perceived as being relatively gender neutral. Athletics clothing is also largely gender fluid, with men just as likely to don the Lycra and shave their legs.

Different animals in-store
In truth, while equality may be increasing on the track, pitch and court, male and female shoppers remain different animals in-store, with gender still playing a significant role in our mindset to shopping and how we engage with retail communication.

For women, environment plays a part in their emotions when shopping - less so for men. It’s perhaps not surprising then that shopping for many sports products in the past wasn’t especially nice, fun or particularly engaging. It was blunt, functional, a necessary mission.

Insight gathered during our work for TomTom suggests that men are still engaged more by product features and technical specification, while women are more interested in aesthetics.

It’s a view supported by research from the industry association for point of purchase display in the UK, which suggests females are typically better at translating the intended meaning of visual imagery and respond to more emotive creative design and messaging.

Meanwhile, men respond better to more functional, obvious communication and, interestingly, are more susceptible to P-O-P in the first place.

Practical considerations
And there are practical considerations that must be given to issues of gender. TomTom Fitness, for example, developed two sizes of watch strap that were ergonomically designed for either a man or woman’s wrist. Colour was also influenced, with its second generation strap designed in a two tone colour, allowing a customer to personalise their watch.

The key issue here is personalisation, which is also a growing focus for many marketers and agencies when developing shopper engagement programmes. Whether this is through apps that are integrated into displays or mobile marketing,  marketers now have more tools at their disposal than ever before.

As a result, it’s possible to take shoppers through a highly tailored brand experience, one that is more accurately aligned to their individual needs, style and gender and all within a singular retail space.

Put simply, whether you’re male or female, there has never been a better time to be into sport or go shopping and to be engaged and satisfied while doing so. But what is evident is that, with both sport and retail landscapes now more gender neutral than ever before, brands will have to up their game if they are to remain engaging and relevant in the eyes of shoppers, regardless of their gender.

Emma Dicks is communications director at shopper marketing agency HRG.

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