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Marketing to women: Why ‘shrink it and pink it’ will no longer cut it

© iStock/Supersmario Marketing to women: Why ‘shrink it and pink it’ will no longer cut it
Women make up half of the population – and yet brands are still failing to create products that are made with their real needs in mind.

Savvy consumers have had enough of marketing strategies such as “shrink it and pink it” – where an existing product (especially one for men) is made smaller and pink to appeal to female customers.

But experts admit that targeting women presents a challenge, especially when the most prominent products “don’t need to be female-centric”. So how can brands make sure their products stand out from the rest?

Ageing population represents a missed opportunity

Most drugs currently in use were approved based on clinical trials conducted on men, while women experience adverse drug reactions nearly twice as often as men, according to a 2020 study.

The same is often true of the supplements space, providing another example of how women’s enduring invisibility in research and development can lead to poorer outcomes.

What’s more, it represents a missed opportunity for brands. By 2030, the worldwide population of menopausal and postmenopausal women is projected to increase to 1.2 billion. An ageing population has driven interest in products that boost memory and cognition, while consumers across all demographics are seeking out solutions for stress and anxiety.

And active nutrition now falls within the domain of the everyday athlete, rather than remaining confined to professionals at the top of their game.

How can brands exploit these opportunities while still creating authentic products that truly address women’s needs?

Differences in physiology ‘obvious and easy to communicate’

Julia Wiebe is managing director at Finzelberg-owned red otc and director at large of Women In Nutraceuticals, a non-profit industry organisation that seeks to champion and empower women in the health and supplement sector.

In an interview for the Vitafoods Insights Women in Nutrition series, she said: “Looking at the nutraceutical industry, female athletes started demanding products for women some years ago, rejecting the ‘shrink it and pink it’ approach to feminising products developed for males. The differences in the female and male physiology are obvious and easy to communicate, and the market has reacted to a growing interest in women-specific workout products.”

Is it possible to target this market without reducing female consumers to a stereotype?

Dr Susan Kleiner, co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, admitted it was “very hard” for companies to focus solely on female-centric products.

She said: “I think that’s a rough model, especially when the most prominent products that we know today really make a difference don’t need to be female-centric – and so how do you create a product that is different than the product that’s already out there?”

© iStock/zoranm Why ‘shrink it and pink it’ will no longer cut it

Kleiner: ‘It didn’t feel authentic’

While Kleiner accepted that the dosing and packaging may be different for female-focused products, she pointed out that “the actual data are no different” and spoke about her personal experience of creating a female-centric carbohydrate supplement.

“We created a whole website that was fully targeted at educational information about nutrition for women. We repackaged it. We redosed it,” she said. “[But] it was the identical problem.

“It was the right thing to do at the time, because there was nothing else out there. We were way ahead of the time, but then it didn’t feel authentic.

“It wasn’t anything different than what we were putting in the jugs that we were selling to anybody, except that packaging was black and orange, and it had a large scoop. And all we needed to do was put in a smaller scoop [and] make it look different.”

While the product was successful, she said she did not feel comfortable with this marketing model.

“Although we sold and women were really excited, the honest broker in me after a while realised that this was screwed up,” she said. “I didn’t want a female-centric brand to sell the exact same ingredients. You just need a more holistic approach.”

Diversifying to meet demand

Kleiner pointed to the huge trust gap that companies within the sports nutrition category will need to tackle in terms of research and data.

“Don't tell me, ‘Well, at high-intensity exercise, the physiology is the same, so you need what a man needs, and our data on men are good enough.’ No – test women and prove it to me,” she said.

“You couldn't tell me that a drug used on men works just as well on women. We've been told that for decades now – we don't accept that anymore. My sense is that women are not trusting what they're being told.”

Asked which other areas of women’s health were being neglected – and which might offer the most opportunities for brands looking to move into this space – Wiebe said: “Apart from products for physical energy, the interest in mental health and mental energy has been skyrocketing in recent years, due to an ageing population and increasing stress levels in all age groups.

“Products for memory, concentration, and focus are in great demand by both sexes, and the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in much greater levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.

“Female consumers are looking for experiential supplements that improve mood and fatigue, and alleviate stress and anxiety.”

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