Guilty of a gender bias?

Sravanthi Challapalli | Updated on March 08, 2018

istockphoto/Diane Labombarbe   -  istockphoto/Diane Labombarbe

An oft-debated question is why have separate versions of products for men and women when just the one will do.


Recently, PepsiCo found itself at the centre of a storm, when reports broke that it would soon launch what was dubbed as Lady Doritos. The snack’s loud crunch embarrasses women, and this version, reports said, would enable women to eat them in public in more ladylike ways. The company soon clarified that there was no such move, but the debate that erupted focused on gender discrimination and needlessly gendered products.

Even more recently, setting off a similar debate, Diageo announced that it would launch limited editions of Johnnie Walker whisky with a difference – Jane would replace Johnnie on the label – so that women were not intimidated by Scotch whisky. Over the years, brands have rolled out versions of their products for men and women, ranging from vehicles to cosmetics to malted drinks to tissues, and apart from questions of whether all are really necessary, there is some research to suggest that women’s products cost more than men’s. A 2015 study, Cradle to Cane: The Cost of Being a Female Customer, conducted by the New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs, found that on average, products for women cost 7 per cent across toys and accessories, children’s clothing, adult clothing, personal care and senior/home health care products.

Business expansion

Veteran marketer Anisha Motwani says the primary reason is simply business expansion, but points out that there are various categories. One is products clearly differentiated for men and women, such as garments. Another is segments where the needs are similar – such as shampoo for clean and healthy hair – but the sales stories are different to woo many kinds of customers.

Sociological factors

Alpana Parida, Managing Director, Business Design, DYWorks, says the change in gender roles is why there are male versions of traditionally women’s products. Today’s woman earns, has learned to live by herself – and men do not give her legitimacy any more. “They are part of her choice-making – and sensing this anxiety in men, categories from deodorants to fairness creams have taken over,” says Parida. From the male provider, and the woman vying for his attention and gaze, it is equally important for the man to be ‘deserving’ of attention, she points out. “While they had been surreptitiously using their wife’s or sister’s Fair & Lovely or Sunsilk shampoo, they are increasingly comfortable with spending time and money on their own grooming,” she adds.

Conditioning – or not?

Packaging can set essentially similar products apart. Products targeted at men are in colours such as black, grey and navy blue while women’s goods are in softer colours. “A lot of it is perception, shapes, colours, packaging. As organisations, we leverage that,” explains Motwani. Is it not conditioning, though? “It’s knowledge, and awareness. You don’t go beyond a certain level of knowledge, and there is a biological sensitivity that influences choices that companies pick up on,” she says. However, she also mentions research that shows that in the West, it’s women, soccer moms, who buy SUVs, rugged, tough vehicles, more than men, as they want to project the impression of being in control.

Women pay more

As for pricing, women are more prone to impulsive purchases than men, who are slower to experiment and buy with more deliberation, so that could be a reason why women’s products are costlier than men’s, she adds. The NYC DCA study gives instances of several products across categories where men’s and women’s products, with not vast differences, vary widely in pricing. “While men’s and women’s products often do not have identical ingredients, according to experts, these differences are not a major driver of the cost discrepancies. The major cost consideration that consumers pay for is the research and development that go into product creation. It appears that female consumers absorb more of these costs than male consumers, rather than the costs being distributed equally,” the research said, adding that in certain categories such as personal care, where the price difference is as much as 13 per cent, it could translate into significant expenditure for women over a lifetime.

A woman consumers tells Catalyst that she gets a closer shave with a certain company’s men’s razors than with its women’s razors, which are sold as disposable products. “Why can’t the company make the same razors for women? Is it because the blades in men’s razors can be reused and won’t be bought as often?” she wonders.

Published on March 08, 2018

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