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  • Matt Burke

Gender-Fluid Brand Design

From colour to messaging, beauty and personal care brands can free themselves from the burden of gender and open up their markets in new, exciting ways.

This article appeared in Global Cosmetics Industry magazine.

Gender stereotypes have been the bane of branding specialists for decades.

Remember the ridicule when pen manufacturer Bic produced ‘For Her’ pens in female-appropriate pink and purple, ‘designed to fit comfortably in a woman’s hand’? Or when UK shoe chain Clarks received complaints over its ‘Dolly Babe’ girls shoes?

That marketers are still making such obvious blunders in today’s social media savvy society is, frankly, mind-boggling. Just the other day Kleenex was forced to rename its ‘Mansize’ tissues as ‘Extra Large’ after being criticised for being sexist. UK supermarket chain Waitrose was recently lambasted by a feminist campaigner for selling a sandwich branded as a ‘Gentleman’s Smoked Chicken Caesar Roll’. Most will see these examples as indisputable branding errors that should never have ended up in production. But setting the right tone can be tricky. So how should marketers navigate this complex landscape?

According to research from J Walter Thompson Intelligence, an increasing number of the so-called Gen Z believe gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to. More than half of 13-to-20-year-olds questioned in the 2016 survey said they knew someone who went by gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they’, ‘them’ or ‘ze’. Gen Z also tend to reject the gender binary while clothes shopping, with just 44% of those questioned always buying clothes designed for their own gender.

As this generation matures, and its spending power increases, companies have to ensure their marketing messages reflect this new era of gender fluidity. It’s not good enough to simply focus on gender equality any more: the next generation of consumers are after gender neutrality.

Brands clearly need to associate themselves with beliefs, passions and hobbies that have nothing to do with whether the target consumer is a man or a woman.

Most gender identifiers are shallow representations of who we see ourselves as anyway and companies are taking note. The Sims 4 game - created by EA - recently introduced more options when creating characters. In addition to male and female characters, players can create gender fluid characters as well as giving female accessories and clothing to male players (and vice-versa).

Photography by @taraliondaris

Celebrating Efficacy & Individuality

At Almighty we are lucky to have worked on a number of forward-thinking branding projects. With Good Science Beauty, we’ve focussed on ensuring the brand communicates its scientific credentials instead of any gender-specific benefits.

The look is inspired by pharmaceutical packaging and this reflects the brand’s willingness to engage with customers about the actual technology, rather than patronising them with empty or over-inflated claims.

The tone of voice for the Good Science Beauty brand was key. This is a brand that never encourages unrealistic ideals but instead celebrates individuality. The emphasis is on what the product can do for the user. It’s a point of view we summed up in the tagline: ‘In sync with you’.

Intimacy without Voyeurism

This focus on individuality follows through into the styling of photography. There are some obvious decisions that we made here, like choosing a diverse group of models in terms of age and ethnicity. But more than that, we made sure models had a natural look, verging on androgynous, and they’re never posing in an overtly sexualised way. Close crops make the shots intimate without being voyeuristic.

Lifestyle over gender

Similarly, the new Al!ve range, which recently launched in leading UK store Sainsbury’s, is aimed at both men and women. The proposition here is around ‘active’ beauty, a gender-neutral idea focused on lifestyle and mind-set. We created a design that is suitably punchy, with stark bold type and high colour. We took care to avoid monochrome or dark tones so often used for products for men, or softer shades or illustrative elements so often used for products for women.


Colour is hugely important. It’s here where brands so often make blunders, reinforcing outdated clichés, but getting it right opens up your market.

Expanding the Boundaries

In many ways, going beyond gender as a defining characteristic is a liberating and refreshing way to start the branding process. It opens up the boundaries. Instead of being defined by stereotypes, thinking about a product from a completely gender neutral starting point enables us to think about other more interesting attributes relevant to a target market, from where they like to travel, to what they like to eat, to where they stand on climate change and so on.

For many brands, the trend for gender fluid marketing is still an untapped opportunity to forge better connections with young people today. Gone are the days when humanity was divided into two ‘buckets’. And that can only be a good thing.

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