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'Gender blur' impacts sales tactics

Changes in the structure of society have blurred traditional distinctions between men and women, according to research group Datamonitor.

This has forced manufacturers and advertisers to adopt new marketing strategies to woo consumers.

Datamonitor says it has revealed the all-important consumer trends which, it claims, manufacturers must adhere to keep up with the mercurial nature of consumer "mega-trends".

But forecasters at the Henley Centre were sceptical, saying most of the trends identified by Datamonitor are at least five years old.


"Gender complexity" has made men become more feminised, taking an active role in parenting while becoming more fashion conscious and spending more money on beauty products, according to Datamonitor's research.

Women, meanwhile, have more earning power, marry later in life or stay single, while catching up with men in the boozing stakes.

The changes in gender attitudes are already reflected in advertising where ads for Pampers nappies feature a father or in the design of All Bar One bars which sport a lighter female-friendly decor.

"Age complexity" is another mega-trend, where children grow up young while more adults want to act like teenagers.

Bungee-jumping grandparents

Manufacturers are therefore developing children's products with cool teenage attributes, while adults strive to emulate teenagers in their dress sense, eating habits and pastimes.

The "lifestage complexity" trend reflects how traditional stages of life are being delayed or abandoned, as shown in the decline of the nuclear family and the rapid growth in the numbers of people living alone, not getting married or having children.

The consequence at supermarket level, for example, is smaller pack sizes, fewer family-sized shopping trolleys and more one-person shopping baskets.

"Individualism" is another trend, Datamonitor says, that shows the "march of self-expression" as expressed by consumers' hunger for more personalised goods.

For example, it says M&S have captured this culture in their "Your M&S" marketing drive, which other adverts promote products to enhance 'your inner self'.

Home alone

Consumers are becoming more rooted in home and family life thanks to DIY and new gadgetry.

This "homing" trend has encouraged the introduction of Pizza Express-branded products in the supermarket and Stella Artois home draught beer on tap.

"Connectivity" reflects the increasing desire for belong at the community, national and even global level.

This is evident in the success of schemes such as Walkers "Books for Schools" and Co-op fair trade products.

Meanwhile, self-heating cans, fast-chilling drinks and tea-in-a-spoon cater for the 'convenience' trend, Datamonitor said.

The "health" trend encompasses the growing recognition that physical and mental wellbeing matter, which has led to booming sales of healthy, de-stressing and self-medication products.

These mega-trends all have longevity, Datamonitor believes.

"Like all true trends they have been and will be with us for the next decade at the least," said Gavin Humphries, consumer market analyst and author of the study.

Old hat

But most of these trends are nothing new, according to business forecasters at the Henley Centre.

"A lot of the trends that seem significant now have been around for a while. Those trends we could have spotted five years ago," said Dr Michelle Harrison, director of the Henley Centre.

Datamonitor's mega-trends are already taking place, but there are other emerging trends that are also interesting, according to the Henley Centre.

Energy control, for example.

The "cash-rich, time-poor" generation of the 1990s said they never had time to get things done.

Looking good

Now products linked to energy will continue to be very important.

"Products that purport to help you develop your energy or manage your energy will continue to do very well. Energy is the new time," said Dr Harrison.

Another trend of the modern age is how consumers have become very aware of their own visual presentation.

No one escapes that visual culture. Even children are obsessed with the way they look. Older people are obsessed with looking younger.

Products that sell the ability to transform - from DIY through to plastic surgery - do very well, Henley Centre said.

"In every part of our lives we feel the duty to transform ourselves and continually be the best we can be. That's a significant social pressure," Dr Harrison said.

"Affluence gives us choice, which leads to complex outcomes which leads to all kinds of neurosis."


Guy Robarts, BBC News. December 23, 2004

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