Miserable men in shopping centres are a symptom of marketing’s gender problem

Bec Brideson has spotted a problem in the wild of Australia's shopping centres, and there's even an Instagram to prove it.

The year is 2018. And in the voice of Attenborough, we cross swiftly through the modern marketplace and land on the lush plains of shiny linoleum at a gathering place called the shopping centre. And it’s here on a Sunday that the greatest marvel of Earth reclines – men.

Their appearance here isn’t uncommon, though their weekly get-together rolls on in uncharacteristic silence. Australia’s most celebrated mammal has assembled for a very special event. Each Sunday, these floors strain under the weighty boredom of these descendants of Anthropoidea, while they rest their lengthy extremities waiting for their intrepid partners to return from the hunt and gather.

Immediately, we know this image is and what it means. It’s been a common retail experience since well before Chapelle’s mocking shout-out ‘Women Be Shoppin!’ In fact, there’s even a whole Instagram devoted to the patient wait of male partners as their unseen female partners have disappeared into the depths of the retail jungle.

Women whether mums, partners or your favourite female comrade are rapacious shoppers – not only because she’s been seduced by a discount but because she’s also the influencer of most purchases including your own. Think about it.

She magically knows when you need fresh underwear, what brands to buy and which ones to avoid because they make you itch. Meanwhile let’s not forget your mum who has likely indoctrinated you unconsciously with the default brands to buy. Young men leave home with their mum’s choices indelibly imprinted on their brains.

Did you grow up on Weetbix? Or was it Nutrigrain? How did you like scoffing down a double-pack Tim Tams? How did you have your Milo? I bet mum prepared it best.

Although men may still out-earn and contribute the majority to the household budget; they are often not making the decision at the coal face of retail nor physically pay-waving the card at the check-out.

If you do spot them rushing around the store, basket-in-hand – they will likely have a list in hand of household preferred brands their partners have furnished them with and exacting directions on which ones they must return home with.

And whilst their sheer brute strength appears better built for manoeuvring shiny metal trolleys piled high with FMCG; they’ll likely be lagging behind the domestic female CEO who has the in-depth expertise and deeply moving relationship to designate their family’s brands of choice.

We have to ask ourselves then beyond this imagery’s humour: what are these men doing? Are they escaping the drudgery of retail? Or are they missing the excitement? Why is it that female relationships with brands are so rich and complicated? And men would rather not engage?

Is it just coincidental that when women meet as a group they flow from one unrelated segue to the next – or as Mia Freedman stated “from Libya to labia” – and when men gather together they talk about discrete topics like music, sports results and the tomfoolery Dazza got up to last Friday? Maybe it’s down to the way our brain synapses fire, environmental considerations, societal expectations or as most often argued, all three.

Isn’t it wonderful that we are so different? Such diverse textures and tensions in the way we shop and buy. Such different projections for male and female discretionary spending influence in the next decade. These are great issues to explore but first and foremost, we must acknowledge that our customer bases influence and power has evolved and pandering to non-gender specific (or worse, to stereotypes) is no longer cutting it.

Here’s a simple first step:

My brand has XX% of male decision-maker, and the total male in category is XX%.

My brand has XX% of female decision-maker, and the total female in category is XX%.

Now – are males or females currently worth more to your business?

Growth potential XX% male and XX% female.

Which gender is most engaged? Who drives and influences the household purchase choice?

Do your resources, budgets and internal strategies reflect this?

Homogenising your audience and communications may seem smart and efficient. But it could also be a colossal, ineffective waste. Of. Money. Get down to the gritty and work out your customer’s gender ratio – I’m sure you’ll be very surprised that women have more power and sway over your brand then you initially thought.

Given we still lack diversity in the C-suite and find men as the majority CEOs, agency and department heads, here’s a simple CTA for your next Sunday wait-out. Before you find yourself settling too deep into that shopping centre seat – look up. Look at what she’s doing. How she’s buying. 

Ask yourself: has your business proactively pursued the differences between your consumers as a point of leverage? Your best and richest marketing research opportunity is right in front of you. The key to disruption now and sustenance long-term is the person deciding your financial spend, managing your kids’ schedules, preparing your favourite weekend waffles and who always ensures you have a replenishment of non-ratty socks.

Jump up, make eye contact and notice her economic influence, and you’ll learn a lot. Or have Ogilvy ‘ladysplain’ it to you: “The consumer is not a moron, she’s my wife.”

Bec Brideson helps businesses and brands through better understanding the power of gender differences.


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