Beware household gender conventions

Harbinger reports on how marketers must adapt to changing roles within the home.


In April, LG Canada released ads on social media that highlighted how women could spend all the time they were saving with its Twin Wash laundry unit.

“Because less laundry time means more mani-pedi time,” one ad said. “… more shopping time,” read another.

The backlash was immediate; the brand pulled the ads and apologized. In a new report, “Evolving Gender Roles in the Modern North American Household,” PR and marketing firm Harbinger outlines the perils for brands that aren’t adapting to the changing distribution of household labour or tapping into the aspirational equality when it comes to chores.

The research was compiled from an online survey Leger conducted for Harbinger of 1,005 Americans and 513 Canadians in the last week of March. See a graphic summary below.

“Marketers are not keeping up with the pace of change in household roles, spelling potential hits and misses in effectively engaging females,” the report says.

Some of the research supports LG’s version, though. Despite the outcry over the ads, the report showed women are more than twice as likely as men (86% to 40%) to do the laundry, and there was a similar gender gap for cleaning the kitchen and bathroom, and for preparing meals. (While men typically rated their contribution higher than women rated men’s roles, one-quarter of men acknowledged they do less than their fair share in these areas).

Chores such as gardening and financial planning showed a roughly equal division, while men were far more likely to handle yard work, home maintenance and technology matters.

While women remain the dominant influencer for household products, the reports says brands need to tap into “the aspirational state where women and men are equal contributors.” Those that recognize men’s contributions will deepen relationships with male and female consumers, it said.

And there was a generational divide: millennial men were more likely to take on traditionally female roles such as laundry, cleaning and cooking.

When it comes to making purchases, the splits were similar to the chore division but with even more female influence. Women were eve more likely to buy the cleaning and laundry products than they were to perform those chores, and more likely to be involved in purchase decisions for home maintenance and technology products.

This was most apparent when it came to personal care products – even men’s grooming, where more than half of women are involved in most product purchases (shaving was the exception).

“Marketers of men’s personal care products would be wise to consider female values, attitudes and behaviours in their marketing approach to build equity with her,” the report says. “Winning her over may be an important measure for retaining existing consumers or driving trial/switching.”

The report also weighed in on perceptions of advertising, with 69% of respondents saying advertisers unfairly portray gender roles in the home; 71% saying they’d like to see brands show men contributing more to chores; and 56% saying they would be more likely to purchase brands  “that show men and women contributing equally to household chores.”

“Considering consumers perceive unfair stereotypes still persist and that gender is becoming less of a factor in who performs which roles in the home, brands would benefit from a more gender-neutral marketing approach that portrays a mix of men and women, avoiding stereotypes or clichés,” the report says.

While men and women agreed that the amount of free time they have was a top factor in determining how much one partner should participate in chores, the report found that ability was the number one determinant. Harbinger noted a marketing opportunity here: empowering consumers could lead to greater cross-gender engagement – “specifically, developing products, packaging and communication mechanisms that deliver the necessary information to succeed in an appropriate format is critical.”



Top image courtesy of Shutterstock.