The case of a Melbourne gelateria that deleted an Instagram post describing “men’s” and “women’s” ice-cream flavours this week has raised the question: is it ever okay for your brand to create different products according to gender?
Cult-favourite brand Pidapipo operates two outlets in the Melbourne suburbs of Carlton and Windsor. The business garnered headlines this week after it posted, then deleted, an Instagram post about two special edition flavours it had created in collaboration with fashion sites Net-A-Porter and Mr Porter.
The post showed a salted caramel option for men and a strawberry rose flavour for women.
Upon receiving blowback from customers on social media, the brand deleted the post, telling Fairfax yesterday the image was “creating confusion as to the intent of the creative collaboration”, and apologised for giving the wrong impression.
In a separate post on Instagram this week, Pidapipo has clarified the intention of its original post, apologising to those who had concerns about it.
When we worked with @netaporter and @mrporterlive (a female and male online shopping website respectively) to create two distinct gelato flavours to represent their unique brands for an event last week, we absolutely didn’t intend for them to be interpreted as gender specific. The gelato flavours were designed to be consumed by everyone who attended the event. We recognise the concept and post were not thought out well and we are truly sorry for this confusion and any offence this may have caused. Pidapipo make gelato for everyone to enjoy – we believe it’s the right of everyone to eat whatever gelato they want… whenever they want.
“We absolutely didn’t intend for them to be interpreted as gender-specific,” the company said.
“We recognise the concept and post were not thought out well and we are truly sorry for this confusion and any offence this may have caused.”
However, the brand is hardly the first company to get in hot water around marketing products relating to the gender of their customers.
From Bic’s ‘female-friendly’ pen to Target copping heat for putting a list of chores on a ‘Batgirl’ t-shirt, other brands have witnessed how referencing gender norms can prompt massive customer backlash.
So what should you do if you want to promote different products on the basis of gender? Our marketing experts say you should think about these three things.
1. Ask first
Director of Social Concepts Jessica Humphreys says before a business makes any decision about promoting products relating to gender, it should take the temperature of the customer base.
“What a lot of smaller businesses in particular do is they base these ideas on their own assumptions,” she says.
Humphreys says it’s important to keep your own assumptions about what is acceptable on these fronts in check, and instead sit down and do the market research to work out whether a gendered stream is appropriate for the market you are pitching to.
“We do that [kind of review] with our clients regularly, and we come up with new ideas that the client hasn’t come up with originally,” she says.
Gender intelligence business expert Bec Brideson says separate products for genders are okay, provided they are created based on “science, research and strategic support for making such decisions”.
“In the case of Pidapipo — it seemed like a lightweight old-fashioned and traditional gendered interpretation of male and female taste-cues based on nothing more than adjectives and colours,” Brideson says.
2. Avoid negative stereotypes
If your business has found a niche where male and female product suites are acceptable, the experts say it’s critical you avoid playing on ideas of traditional gender stereotypes in your marketing.
Director of Inside Out Pr Nicole Reaney says consumers are now ready to come down hard on a brand if it misses the mark on this issue, and overall she recommends businesses think about other ways of promoting goods before making it gender-specific.
“Back in the 70s is was very acceptable to release gender-based products, but I believe today it opens a brand to consumer fury and is probably not a wise approach at this time,” she says.
This doesn’t mean you have to “forgo creativity” with your campaigns, Reaney says: simply workshop ways you can promote a product so it’s unlikely to offend one group in particular.
Brideson observes the response to Pidapipo in this case was in part because of the nature of the flavours.
“It was flippant and reinforced traditional-lensed thinking and stereotypes,” she says.
“There can be an opportunity to create a gendered promotion, but not if you rely on old fashioned ideas on colours or flavours,” Humphries says.
“Here, the women’s flavour was pink.”
3. Be ready to own up to concerns
Finally, if you’ve rolled out a strategy and you’re being hit with backlash because of gender portrayals, the only thing you can do is admit it, says Brideson.
“Own up to being underbaked in your strategy and make a concerted effort to get upstream,” she says.
Humphreys says if your business gets to the point where it has to delete social media posts because of backlash, this can be done, but it must not happen in isolation.
“I would say that deleting the post is definitely not enough. You still need to communicate a result after what happened, and be apologetic and informative rather than making excuses,” she says.
SmartCompany contacted Pidapipo for further comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.