Is your brand seen as male or female?

Studies show that emotional connection with gendered products creates a loyal consumer base. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Studies show that emotional connection with gendered products creates a loyal consumer base. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Highly masculine and feminine brands are preferred by consumers because they create an emotional attachment to them, research has found.

Research conducted by Prof Theo Lieven and his colleagues on the effects of brand gender on brand equity found that highly masculine and feminine brands elicit higher brand equity ratings, regardless of whether they are associated with the same gender as the participants.
“Results suggest that brand gender influences brand equity because it is easy for consumers to categorise sex-typed stimuli, including brands.

This ease of categorisation of sex-typed brands, in turn, triggers more positive responses to highly masculine or highly feminine brands.

Undifferentiated and androgynous brands, which are more difficult to categorise due to more ambiguous gender positioning, cannot command superior choice shares or brand equity,” reported the researchers.

“Consumers favour brands that they can associate with in terms of personality and ones which define their identity. Such brands evoke positive emotions from them, increasing preference,” said Stella Kimani, a brand strategist. In this, gender-neutral brands are considered to lack character and uniqueness therefore consumers are unable to form an attachment to them.

The emotional connection with gendered brands, conversely, creates a loyal consumer base, but that base is committed to the brand’s existing gender.

In cases where marketers have sought to grow their consumer base and increase profits by tapping into the opposite sex, the existing loyal customers often get upset and vent their frustration on online platforms.

“When a gendered brand’s identity meanings are diluted by its appropriation by the opposite sex, its existing consumers have two options: discard the brand because it no longer delivers their desired gender identity, or stay and fight for the gendered meanings. Either option thwarts the marketer’s objective of increasing brand appeal to both sexes,” said Jill J. Avery, Senior Lecturer of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School in a case study on gender contamination.

In the study, Avery examined the online conversations among members of a brand community for car manufacturer Porsche, a highly masculine brand, when it launched its first SUVs in 2003, which are commonly associated with women drivers.

The introduction of the Porsche Cayenne SUV was seen as a betrayal to the masculine identity of the brand and the loyal consumers considered it as a personal affront, a slap in the face that reflected badly on them.

“Many brand community members complained that the Cayenne is feminine, citing features of the vehicle that suggest that the SUV was designed for women: its automatic tiptronic transmission, its cup holders, and its feminine design.

The automatic transmission obliterates the physical challenge of mastering Porsche’s difficult handling, while the cup holders add unnecessary weight to the vehicle, heretical in a race car. Both of these features decrease the product’s masculinity,” reported the researchers.

“Porsche owners saw SUV owners as inauthentic: they do not drive in the appropriate manner, driving too slowly or carefully; they do not care for their vehicle in a respectful manner, letting it get dirty or parking it too close to other cars; and they do not respect the heritage of the brand and its racing roots.”

However, despite the complaints from the loyal male consumers, and due to its highly feminine features, the Cayenne became the company’s best-selling model in its first year with 30,376 sales.

In fact, in 2015, its two SUVs Macan and Cayenne accounted for 68 per cent of the company’s 225,000 worldwide sales; selling 80,000 and 73,000 cars respectively.

- African Laughter