Throw Out Your Rule Book, And Your Stereotypes

by Taylor Bennett

“And you knew who you were then, girls were girls and men were men….those were the days.”

Now far removed from America’s favorite politically incorrect couple, Archie and Edith Bunker, today’s advertisers need to start thinking as such. More and more men are doing the shopping and cleaning while increasing numbers of women are watching football and playing video games. Despite these shifts in traditional and expected behaviors, many brands have been slow to respond, whether due to denial, habit, or misinformation.

First to mind is Huggies’ ad blunder earlier in 2012 where it centered a series of commercials around Ad Land’s favorite fall guy—the doofus dad. The premise—put Huggies to “the toughest test imaginable: dads, alone with their babies for five days.” Five days alone with dad?! If a baby can get through that kind of terror, then surely those diapers are superior to all others! As a matter of fact, in the 2010 Census, it was found that 20% of families with children aged 0-4 and where the mother was employed, dad is considered the primary caregiver. Additionally in that census, it was found that even in families where mom may not be employed, dad is in charge of childcare at least 32% of the time.

I’ll pause to note that there have been no notable increases in infant or child mortality in recent years.

Dad is also picking up the slack in family chores—more than half of men aged 18 to 64 ina study conducted by Yahooidentified themselves as the primary grocery shopper for their household. Despite that, only 22% – 24% felt that advertising for packaged goods or pet supplies was actually directed toward them. I can’t say I find this surprising—when is the last time you saw a commercial with a man spraying the kitchen counter down with disinfectant, or scrubbing the bath tub?

As far as women are concerned, they too are inching past the traditional gender boundary, and advertisers are slowly responding. L’Oreal made a surprising move last month withthe release of a new beauty and style app—on X-Box 360. Although it may seem like a strange place to find women, nearly 40% of X-Box’s users are female and it’s expected that more female-based apps will join their ranks in the near future.

Similarly, theNFL has seen huge gains in women viewers, with Sunday Night Football now ranking #4 among women viewers, behind “American Idol” (both weekday broadcasts) and “The Voice.” And they’re not only watching, but participating and purchasing. This year, 25% of all Fantasy Football participants are female, and the NFL cites its women’s clothing line as its fastest growing consumer products business.

Still, gender isn’t the only place where old stereotypes are being thrown out on their proverbial ear. Fifty-four is the new 49. Young American Hispanics are speaking more English now than Spanish. China is now positioned to become the world’s biggest spenders as their middle class grows. The list goes on and on.

These shifts pose a threat to all companies and organizations who ignore them—and a great opportunity for those who don’t. When is the last time your brand took a hard look at your target audience? Is it the same as it was five years ago? Are there groups you’re missing entirely?

As you begin (or if you’re really on the ball, wrap-up) your planning for 2013, hit the books to find out what other trends your industry is seeing. The answer may not only surprise you, but help improve your bottom line.