In an era where the lines between gender identities blur and the call for inclusivity grows louder, brands are standing at a crossroads. How can they connect effectively with female consumers in a way that respects their individuality without falling into the trap of outdated stereotypes? Lejla Kurić, Design Director at Equator Design, tells us more.


From designs and colours to imagery and fonts, we see these gender cues (both overt and covert) in plenty of product packaging. Some are more subtle than others. For example, research has shown that people tend to associate curved shapes with femininity and angular shapes with masculinity. Colours, meanwhile, are more noticeable, with many products designated ‘for men’ packaged in dark colours, while the equivalents ‘for women’ come in lighter hues.

More conspicuous cues can be found in the language used on pack, with certain products – particularly toiletries – frequently displaying words associated with power, endurance, and even machinery when marketed to men (think ‘mighty’, ‘supercharged’, and ‘turbo’) while the options designed ‘for women’ use words that emphasise softness or highlight the products’ wellness benefits (think ‘nourishing’, ‘calming’, and ‘radiance’).

“Because gender stereotypes are socially constructed, cues like these can feel shallow, meaning they miss the mark when it comes to connecting with their intended audience,” says, Lejla Kuric, Design Director, at Equator. The colour pink, commonly associated with femininity, is a good example of a superficial cue.

In 1918, a trade publication called Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department announced that when it came to colours, the “generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls”. Since then, this ‘rule’ has been reversed, showing how arbitrary it was in the first place.

“Plenty of women love the colour pink,” Lejla adds, “but it isn’t inherently a ‘female’ colour, and it certainly doesn’t guarantee a meaningful connection with consumers who identify in this way.”

The increase in people openly identifying as non-binary or trans has also highlighted flaws in gender-based marketing approaches, undermining conventional notions of gender roles and experiences and demonstrating the importance of fluidity and nuance.

Consumers – especially younger consumers – are developing an appetite for products that aren’t packaged and marketed in a gendered manner. A study conducted by McKinsey, for example, found that 48% of Gen Z consumers value brands that don’t classify items as male or female, highlighting a shift towards gender-neutral products and marketing strategies.

“Gendered packaging and marketing messages can and often do backfire,” commented Lejla. “Some of this comes down to our resistance, as consumers, to be put in a box or to have our identity boiled down to just one aspect.”

Categorisation threat – the unwillingness to be categorised into a single identity – was the focus of Harvard Business School’s ‘Calculators for Women’ study, which asked participants to choose between a green calculator and a purple calculator, telling half of the group that the purple ones were for their gender (i.e. ‘for women’ or ‘for men’).

Despite liking the colour purple, only 24% of women chose it when it was labelled ‘for women’, compared to the 51% of women who chose it when it had no gender labels.

So, does all this mean that brands should disregard gender entirely? Not necessarily. “At Equator, we often talk about the importance of consumer research,” says Lejla.

“When considered as part of a holistic approach that aims to understand customers as multifaceted individuals rather than homogenised groups, gender is a valid consideration – but it’s not the only one. Spending drivers such as priorities, pain points, and personal values offer much more information when it comes to decisionmaking, whether that’s about packaging design or marketing messages.

“Sometimes brands don’t do enough of a deep dive into their consumers and what makes them tick. They use gender as a shortcut, and this is when you tend to see stereotypes coming into play,” comments Lejla.

“It’s important to question whether gender is integral to the product. With some things, like tampons or sanitary towels, it might be. But you can design your packaging or craft your marketing strategy in a way that appeals to women without resorting to a pink and white colour scheme with floral motifs.”

So, what alternatives should brands consider when attempting to appeal to women? One option is to emphasise the functionality, quality, and benefits of their products. This approach appeals to consumers’ practical needs and interests, transcending gender-based assumptions.

Where gender is central to the brand or product, narrative marketing can play a powerful role. Telling authentic stories that reflect diverse experiences and perspectives can resonate with female consumers on an emotional level, moving marketing away from stereotypes and towards genuine, relatable content.

As consumer attitudes towards gender evolve, brands must reconsider traditional gender-based packaging and marketing tactics. By focusing on functionality, embracing gender-neutral designs, highlighting brand values, and engaging in narrative marketing, they can connect with female consumers on a more authentic and inclusive level.

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