The Risky Business Of Gender Innovations

Although Lynx – an inherently male positioned brand – launched it’s first fragrance for women a few years ago now, it’s got us thinking about the topic of gender stretching brand innovations, and what to consider before venturing there. 

Men are the tricky ones

Studies indicate that loyal male consumers often get annoyed when a traditionally masculine brand expands to include feminine products – especially in cases where men use that brand to convey their identities.

Harvard Business School senior lecturer Jill Avery calls this concept “gender contamination”. She cites, as an example, anthropological studies of cultures where certain talismans could only be touched by men, who believed that the touch of a woman would make the object lose its power. Throughout history, men seem to have feared gender contamination much more than women.

It is an urban truth that a girl being called a tomboy is in most cases considered a compliment, whereas a boy being called a sissy is a blatant insult. Therefore, the concern about women contaminating the things of men is much bigger than that of men contaminating the things of women.

However, if traditional masculine brands can get the tricky gender move right, women represent a valuable untapped market opportunity.

How have other masculine brands fared in the quest to reach out to female consumers?

Porsche – culturally, Porsche’s and men have gone together. Porsche acknowledged that women who could afford to buy a Porsche but don’t, go on to buy 4×4’s from other brands. So they launched the Cayenne and have increased their female base globally from 10% to 18%


Carlsberg launched Copenhagen to start challenging the masculine perceptions of lager (74% is drunk by men). According to a Carlsberg spokesperson, women want “a less bitter, non-bloating beer that does not give you a malty/ hoppy aftertaste and breath”. The execution is also a departure from their staple consumer of sports-loving dudes. As it’s no longer available in the UK, we can only assume that it wasn’t the success they had hoped for.

Carlsburg original and Copenhagen bottled beer


Gillette successfully managed to bend shaving products into the female market, firstly by creating the sub-brand ‘Gillette for Women’, and then more bravely creating an entirely new brand, Venus, from Gillette. This resulted in the overall shaving market expanding as women traded up from cheap plastic razors to more expensive, heavy duty ones.

gilette for men and venus Gillette for ladies razors

Top tips when considering gender innovations:

  • What brand architecture do you need so as not to alienate your core consumer?
  • How different does your gender innovation need to feel vs. the core brand?
  • How will your innovation build and not dilute your brand equity?
  • What role do names and descriptors play to communicate the gender appropriateness?
  • Are you limiting the size of the new opportunity through the constraints of how far an existing brand may stretch? Would you be better off creating an entirely new brand?