Gendered Ads

With the Christmas shopping season well under way, it’s almost impossible to watch TV or walk through your local mall without being inundated with ads from retailers enticing you to spend your money in their stores. The Bank of Montreal projects a 15 per cent jump in Canadians’ holiday spending this year. In fact, its Holiday Spending Outlook reports that survey respondents plan to spend an average of $1,610 this holiday season, up from $1,397 in 2011. As consumers scour countless stores and websites to find that perfect gift, retailers are targeting shoppers with separate advertising strategies for each gender.

“For women it’s all about community and collaboration,” says Brynn Winegard, a professor of entrepreneurship and strategy at the Ted Rogers School of Management. “They typically like hearing about what other people are doing. The classic phrase that marketers use, ‘All of your neighbours have done this, so should you,’ works well on women.” Females are also interested in hearing about the myriad of things a product or service will do for them. The Houston Chronicle reports that this is because of differences in the brain chemistry of men and women. Females have a larger hippocampus region, a part of the brain associated with organizing and storing information, which allows them to recall detailed information more easily.

On the other side, men are typically focused on the individual and are more interested in hearing about the one thing a product or service will offer them. Winegard says personal acclaim, individuality and hierarchy are key themes in marketing and advertising targeted at males.

Social Media & the Sexes

According to recent data on, there are widespread differences between the ways women and men use social media. Women dominate the two largest social networking sites, as 64 per cent of Twitter users and 58 per cent of Facebook members are females. Pinterest is practically a no-man’s land with 82 per cent of its user base comprised of women. Men dominate Reddit, Google+ and LinkedIn. Women are also more involved in social media, making 99 million more visits per month to their favourite social networking sites than men.

Retailers use this information to target their advertising efforts. “We definitely see a lot of social media advertising targeted towards women this holiday season,” says Winegard. Companies are leveraging these sites because they lend themselves well to discussion and a community atmosphere, something that females value. “Women tend to respond really well through word-of-mouth marketing. If the product or service is peer-reviewed, she is more likely to buy it.” This is because women see other females as experts. Allysa Martinez, a third year child and youth care student, says she consults other girls when making certain purchases. “When it comes to products where I know I’ll be spending a lot of money I’ll definitely ask other girl friends for recommendations,” she says. “Sometimes, I’ll even bring them into the store for their opinion, especially if it’s a major clothing purchase.”

Men don’t necessarily consider their friends  experts. They are more likely to ask a sales person or a professional with industry knowledge for advice. The type of media males respond to also differs from women. They are more likely to get purchase ideas from “old school” mediums, such as print or television ads. Eric Li, a fourth year early childhood education student, agrees. “TV ads definitely work best on me. The image is visually appealing and I like that you can see the product in use,” he says. “I think social media ads are pointless because I don’t get to interact with the product directly or at least see it being used.”

Despite these trends, people’s individual reactions to ads vary. “Gender is a huge spectrum,” says Winegard. “There’s as much variation within each gender as there is between men and women as a group.” However, she says that if you look at this issue from a neurological perspective, you will find that women’s brains will become more active when they see an advertisement that incorporates community and collaborative themes. The signals in a man’s brain will fire when viewing ads that enforce themes of individuality and hierarchy.

Rob Wilson, a marketing professor at the Ted Rogers School of Management, agrees with Winegard. “These are facts of life,” he says. “Most large retailers have been around for a long time and they’ve tested these marketing strategies. These are tried and true methods. They work.”

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