Come as you are

Categories : News

A couple of months ago, CoverGirl, the well-known cosmetic company announced as its new spokesmodel a young makeup artist and YouTuber, James Charles, making him the first male spokesmodel for a cosmetics brand. This nomination created a vast wave of reactions on social media, as it was both acclaimed and criticised. I myself was pleasantly surprised, as I value brands that take risks and think outside the box. By taking this stance, CoverGirl contributed to shaking-up of one of the most traditional and longstanding market segmentations: the clear line that divides gender marketing.

CoverGirl is not the first company to play with the well-established gender identity. The world of fashion has already showed an interest in the androgynous look, and even transgender models by casting people such as Tracey Norman, Andreja Pejic, or Valentijn De hingh. Another big player in the cosmetics industry, Clean & Clear, has made transgender teen Jazz Jennings its muse, while Magnum Ice Cream Company’s campaign #TrueToYourPleasure depicts the protagonists with an imprecise gender identity. Further, giant conglomerate Bud Light bluntly rejected the traditional binary gender classification in its #BudLightParty campaign. In an ad for this campaign, spokespersons Seth Rogens and Amy Schumer affirmed: “But, you know, gender identity, it’s really a spectrum and we don’t need these labels. (…) Beer should have labels, not people.”

These marketing initiatives come at a time when questioning gender identity and its expression is an emerging tendency in our western society. The star system and the media have greatly helped to draw attention to this phenomenon, thanks to people such as Caitlyn Jenner (former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner), actress Laverne Cox from Orange is the New Black, or even the coming out of singer-songwriter Coeur de Pirate.

We are more and more confronted with the evolving idea of a “third gender”.  This new identity can be defined broadly in several ways: being in an intermediate state between man and woman; simultaneously belonging to both sexes; having a gender identity which differs from the sexual identity; or even rejecting the conventional categorization for positioning on a broader spectrum.

As we stay on top of emerging social trends, we asked ourselves about the impact of this movement on the world of market research and whether we should be adding a third option when we ask in our surveys about respondents’ gender.  We have to admit, the answer is not simple.

  • Give respondents the choice: It is important to design questions and responses that respondents feel they can answer truthfully.  Whether it be in the formulation of the question (which gender do you identify  as) or the choices provided.
  • Some clients are not comfortable with formulating a gender question in a “non-traditional” manner.
  • Super small sample size: While a growing number of people are claiming to affiliate with a third gender, they still represent a very small proportion of the overall population.  Market research results rarely have samples of a sufficient size to allow other options to be statistically analyzed. As such, their answers will simply be amalgamated with the total – and never really analyzed as a segment.
  • Is there an impact on our survey results of offering a third answer choice?  Some respondents might not react positively to the third option and it therefore might impact the survey results.

It is a dilemma. What about you guys? What do you think?

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