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Trends and Insight

Breaking Beauty’s Gender Obsession - The Survey

Cult's non-binary survey challenges the beauty industry 

Breaking Beauty’s Gender Obsession - The Survey

As society’s understanding of gender boundaries are challenged and informed, brands that silo consumers into defined male/ female stereotypes risk becoming obsolete. Gendered skincare could be considered, at best, a prejudiced outdated marketing tactic, or at worst, a socially constructed cash cow. Young consumers increasingly define their own gender norms and recognise advertising’s portrayal of masculinity and femininity as clichéd tropes. Creative agency Cult teamed up with The Diversity Standards Collective to discuss the potential of non-binary beauty. 

The survey questioned thirty gender diverse individuals, revealing everyone has universal wants and needs. Of those questioned 91% value the condition of their skin, 91% buy regular beauty products and maintain a skin routine. 83% buy products that aren’t targeted at their gender and 65% wear make-up or nail polish regularly as part of their self-expression. 

“I am a trans male but paint my nails everyday as a sign of anarchy, and i believe it looks nice…. I have never seen a marketing campaign explicitly feature a non-binary person, and it's very rare for queerness generally to be represented in beauty product or skincare marketing.” Interviewee.

In the wake of #MeToo, BLM, lockdown and even mental health awareness, brands are adapting, stereotypical male campaigns are in decline as markets shift away from toxic extremes. But beauty brands must work harder to connect with consumers by being less predictable. When discussing the role of brands in normalising diversity and inclusion in society, 83% believe brands have a direct responsibility to support changes in cultural norms around gender. 93% think brands should embrace gender inclusivity and 90% relate to those non-binary beauty products and marketing campaigns that already do. 93% feel beauty brands that merely market by gender are not relevant.

“'Woke brands' are total shams. They are only out to get money…Brands usually reflect the cultural landscape though, not push for change. When brands stand up for 'controversial' changes like trans visibility, it usually means that the change has taken hold and it's safe for the brand to 'support' the issue.”  Interviewee.

Just 13% of the group feel the beauty industry has the right tone of voice when it comes to gender identity. 97% agreed dividing consumers by gender identity only reinforces outdated social constructs. Fortunately, only 10% of the group felt they had not seen any positive shift in understanding over the last twelve months. 

“I do think it's better for big brands to support social change than to uphold archaic values. Occasionally campaigns supporting once-controversial issues will chase up those still doubting. Plus, I'm all for supporting independent, ethical brands. Not liking capitalism doesn't make me exempt from living in it.”  Interviewee.

“By not being inclusive you are continuing to perpetuate the stereotype that only women want to look good… Gender is a spectrum… Brands help shape the way people see the world, and should support positive change wherever they can… More than ever, people don't want to be hoodwinked or confused. We're dealing with enough as it is.” Interviewee.

“The self-expression that the Beauty industry facilitates means it is in a unique position to challenge traditional mindsets and elevate multiple definitions of beauty. Only brands that embrace the full spectrum of diversity and focus on universal themes that inspire and unite, rather than divide and shame, will become the brands of tomorrow. There is a huge opportunity right now to be guided by cultural needs and desires and transform the relationships brands can have with consumers.” Cat Turner, co-founder and CCO, Cult

Cult also teamed up with top skincare Influencer James Welsh, his twin brother Robert Welsh, the global professional make-up artist and YouTuber, and The Diversity Standards Collective founder Rich Miles to discuss the survey and why Beauty is so gender obsessed. The twins represent the Beauty industry's leading edge, they have a wealth of insight and experience on beauty and skincare, gender, race, sexuality and nonconformity, Cat and Bridey take some of the worlds biggest brands beyond their comfort zone to deliver tangible business value and Rich Miles is educating the creative sector on diversity and inclusion. 

"Gender stereotypes have become outdated and the beauty industry needs to catch up with the mentality of their consumers in order to keep appealing to them. This research gives us great insight that cisgender males are rejecting the stereotyped images and masculine skewed beauty ranges that have been forced upon them for years and are now aligning more with non-binary ideals towards inclusive beauty.” Rich Miles, founder, The Diversity Standards Collective.

“The opportunity for the beauty industry going forward is to be open and honest as a brand and not just give consumers a product - make them feel part of a community. Brands have become a way for people to express themselves, so brands need to be present and be more than just a product.” Robert Welsh, professional make-up artist and YouTuber, @robertwlsh.

"If a brand was a person who would they be? What do they represent? Would you hang out with them? That's why influencer brands do so well, they know who that person is and what that brand represents.”James Welsh, skincare Influencer, @james_s_welsh.

“There is an opportunity  to market products for everyone. Beauty is all about self expression, it's about playfulness, getting into a new character… it’s all about defining one’s identity… “ Cat Turner, CCO and co-founder, Cult.

"Its not just about the opportunity to sell, it’s about how acting as a brand is right because there is a risk by not being authentic and there is a risk in just ticking boxes - you will get called out for it. Brands should not just be brave for relevancy, it goes way beyond that.” Bridey Lipscombe, MD and co-founder, Cult.

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