A recent move by Johnnie Walker to launch Jane Walker, replacing John by Jane both as target customer and logo mnemonic, has resurrected the age-old debate of Gender Customisation in brand experiences. When done deliberately to cater to tastes and preferences as opposed to mere physical realignments, they can lead to significant successes or staggering failures, depending on the accuracy of insight and brew. The comparison thus with Fair and Handsome men’s fairness cream, endorsed by Shah Rukh Khan, seems far-fetched but is actually part of the same continuum of thoughtful logic.
The most obvious reason for a gender-based brand extension is to eliminate a specific access barrier, which can be as fundamental as the ingredient composition or emotional like self-esteem or societal prestige. Menfolk all over the country were secretly using Fair and Lovely for decades as the disreputable outcome of fairness was sincerely sought, inspired certainly by Rajesh Khanna and his peers. However, in an intensely patriarchal society no self-respecting fellow would ever own up to this truth or ask in the Kirana, so the male-gender version worked wonderfully in breaking barriers to accelerate demand that soundly existed. Brands in the personal care space at large play to this trend with even shower gels by Fiama Di Wills clearly segregated, a smart marketing move not just in fanning vanity but also ensuring two units are purchased in a shopping cycle.
As the father of a three-year-old child enamoured by Kinder Joy, it is remarkable to witness the clear roles of the blue and pink versions, quite rare in this industry for sure. Partly of course to do with the relevance of the toy inside but more connected to the emerging state of gender consciousness effectively creating separate avenues for access. When five-star hotels create separate floors for lady travellers that too is connected to a genuine access criterion, in this case denial of hostelry to males leading to a climate of enhanced security. A feature emulated by Vistara in its well-received stance to similar gender-based privileges. But in both these service-industry cases, the branding remains intact while this exists as a customised feature, not a separate entity like a women’s-only hotel or flight, unfeasible as business entities to start with.
Where this strategy gets questionable is in ‘Equaliser’ categories, liquor and automobiles notably, where the high ground of performance has been deliberately or inadvertently designed for the male user, making that aspirational for the progressive lady. Every modern woman seeking a high-performance bike will vouch for the Harley or Triumph and in her choice of strong tipple, the best bourbon or scotch that the barman can supply. Every attempt over the years to mellow the horsepower works only if acceptable to the entire consumption base and not just the woman customer. For Johnnie Walker, a brand familiar with dynamic extension strategies launching and withdrawing ‘labels’ over years and geographies, a more potent plan must be to launch a special Pink Label series, designed for the youthful lady drinker who seeks a mellow stylish blend and in turn attracting the metrosexual man as well. A strategy quite similar to the Smart vehicle, Swatch and Mercedes, designed in styling for the urban lady but driven equally comfortably by the smart man as well. In a twist of context, beauty parlours are benchmarked by men for their proven ability to service the discerning lady, their own custom being extended to locations delighting the wife or mother.
Purely as a conceptual exercise, companies can actively evaluate the gender-customisation strategy as a source of horizontal revenues, conjuring a new stream of current and future custom. A large chain of hospitals in India has already launched their women’s-only product, uniting gynaecology, obstetrics and paediatrics under one roof, thus creating a unique culture of treatment and a viable revenue stream. What private taxis have already done can be replicated by restaurants possibly, ladies-only cafes and pubs fuelling the culture of ‘Girls’ outings anytime in the day or night. Single-serve foods can also potentially succeed, be it chips, yoghurt or even noodles, as long they are positioned intelligently with new-age sensitivities. In fact, the rapidly-boisterous activism movement can fuel its feminist range of products and services, the ‘Un-March 8’ range where beers, juices and nutrition supplements can convey the due attitude of zero-condescending equality.
Gender Customisation is facing a definite dichotomy, traditionally segregated spaces like education and beauty care moving to unisexual zones while items of common consumption veering towards separate experiences. A function clearly of discernment in consumer tastes and not the age-old enforced delinking, this can lead to lucrative and inspirational avenues for branding. Whether Jane Walker with the strutting lady will succeed is still speculation but brands customised by gender are clearly poised to keep walking.
(ShivajiDasgupta is the Founder of INEXGRO Brand Advisory and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org)
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