Gender and the market place

08 August 2005

The UCT Unilever Institute of Strategic Marketing's latest research looks at how South Africans view the complex subject of their own gender identities.

"There is very little comprehensive information on marketing to both genders," explained Katherine Thomson, the institute's publicist.

"Men and women are biologically different; they process information differently and this impacts on how we market to each gender. Generalising about all men and all women is superficial and misleading as it downplays the significant differences. It also leads to stereotyping."

Thomson says the study, Gender - The New Struggle, was a journey into the hearts and minds of South Africans to see what it means to be a man or a woman in contemporary society, and how this affects brand choice, shopping patterns and communication.

"The objectives of the project were to achieve a more realistic view of the marketplace. In order to accomplish this, the institute developed a Gender Mindset Model that underpins marketing recommendations. The model shows that marketers need to move beyond thinking that all men are macho and that all women are progressive feminists, and that they need to understand that it's more about how a person thinks than what stereotypes say they are."

The model is based on postmodernism and gender identity theory, and is rich, efficient and robust in differentiating South Africans on the basis of gender mindset, Thomson added.

Key findings from the study show that:

  • 50% of South Africans feel that the way women are treated in society is unfair
  • 41% believe it is acceptable that society favours men
  • 32% say a women's place is in the home
  • 73% believe a man should be the head of the household, and
  • 64% say men should be the primary breadwinner in the family.

"Some of the fascinating findings show that women, in rethinking the role they play in society, have forced men to rethink their attitudes and behaviour," Thomson noted. "The results show that the significant and often startling changes that have swept South Africa over the past 10 years have had a correspondingly profound effect on the country's men and women."

With many South Africans frustrated at the use of gender stereotypes in advertising and marketing, the challenge for marketers is to rethink old assumptions and approaches.

Thomson says the blurring of traditionally male and female categories opens growth opportunities for astute marketers, both for new product development and expanding growth to new audiences.

"Each gender mindset will filter messages according to its own set of assumptions about the social order and, to connect at an emotional level, communication will need to be purpose-designed to fit specific gender mindsets."

The institute carried out a total of 3 504 interviews among men and women (of all race groups) older than 18 years of age across South Africa. Audio-visual research consisted of over 100 consumer interviews and over 30 expert interviews. The project also included analysis from strategists in commerce and academia.

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