Gender stereotypes are falling apart. Occupations once reserved to men are now thrown open to women, who seem to be increasingly more interested in products that were once perceived as male-dominated, such as beers and cars. Men, on the other hand, are venturing into traditionally female roles, including looking after their appearance, the house and the children.
Our society’s values have changed and the industry needs to keep up. Unisex fashion is back on the spotlight and the cosmetic industry is replicating the trend by blurring gender boundaries with new product releases. O Boticário’s campaign for Valentine’s Day 2015 launched Egeo 7 Tentações, a limited-edition collection featuring seven gender-neutral fragrances. The TV commercial showcased both hetero and homo couples exchanging gifts with their loved ones and stirred controversy among the conservative crowd, while reinforcing the brand’s commitment to supporting gender equality and diversity.
In June this year, Avon also jumped on the genderless bandwagon by releasing the BB Cream Matte Color Trend with the “Para TodEs” campaign. In Portuguese, it’s often possible to tell the gender of a noun from its ending, with feminine words ending in “a” and masculine words ending in “o”. The “e” of “TodEs” would be an original attempt to create a neutral gender. The ad debuted on the LGBT Awareness Day and starred gender diversity ambassadors such as singer Liniker and activist Jessica Tauane.
Even cosmetics giant Unilever, which for decades promoted deodorant Axe as “men’s weapon of mass seduction”, decided to change its strategy. The brand’s Find Your Magic campaign was a clear departure from the brand’s focus on macho antics to a more diverse comprehension of masculinity.
This new perspective on gender identity brought unisex fragrances and cosmetics back to the spotlight. But the question remains: does this trend point to a new direction for the industry as a whole or is it just a gimmick to boost sales? Perfume expert and founder of 1 Nariz, Dênis Pagani believes it’s all a marketing strategy. “This genderless fad looks like a bubble to me. In a couple of years, it will probably be perceived as a spike, rather than a paradigm shift.”
Juliana Martins, beauty and personal care analyst at Mintel, agrees this movement serves a sales purpose. “Companies will continue to develop gender-specific products, but items that appeal to both men and women may attract more customers.” Martins also says Brazil’s economic turmoil may have influenced this trend as gender-neutral products can be shared by the couple or within the household.
This behavioural change is closely linked to millennials, a generation that defies labels. “It might as well be the emergence of a new consumer market where gender distinction is an unimportant factor in the purchase equation,” Pagani says. This orientation would be likely to reshape retail as we know it. “It may be the right time change the way products are displayed in the shops and adopt a more inclusive approach to reach out to both sides of the gender aisle,” he ponders.
Yet, Pagani says this trend only concerns a small share of the market at this stage. “The mass fragrance market is still highly dominated by gender-specific scents. Even if the gender-neutral trend gains traction, it will still take some time for brands to change the way they communicate with their audience.”