Once upon a time, Roland Barthes wrote extensively and poetically on the seemingly mundane subject of advertisement for detergents and soaps: "These products have been in the last few years the object of such massive advertising that they now belong to a region of French daily life which the various types of psycho-analysis would do well to pay some attention to if they wish to keep up to date." And, while such things might not seem ripe for academic dissection, Barthes' Mythologies is proof that the language and imagery of advertising is both worthy of analysis and imbibed with a lot of meaning and insight into our desires as a culture, and as humans.
When it comes to selling a product, we all know there's a lot more that goes into it than your basic supply-and-demand, quality versus quantity arguments. Entire marketing departments and advertising teams work tirelessly to decide just how to get you to spend your money on any particular item — and that often means pandering to and keying into the most basic stereotypes of social groups. That phenomenon was perhaps best exemplified by the ridiculous pink BIC for Her pens targeted to ladies, because goodness knows we can't write our love letters and blueberry pie recipes with a normal pen! But, the truth is, the same philosophy that led to that PR disaster is leading to great success in the world of beauty products. It's not just smart advertising, it's par for the course.
Further to that point, the teams that come up with product packaging and advertising campaigns aren't stupid. In many cases, they're working off data from real world sales and focus groups, and simply creating what people respond to. It's a bit of a chicken-or-the-egg situation when it comes to the question of who, exactly, is responsible for the standardized, traditional gender presentation manifested in the products that line the drugstore aisle.
We, for one, have no shame in admitting that we like a girly-girl spin on things from time to time, but we've also enjoyed plenty of products aimed at dudes (some of us even swear by Old Spice instead of Secret). As long as we can all feel comfortable in our own skin, there's not necessarily a problem with packaging things in gender-specific ways. But it is a truly fascinating look at how marketing teams perceive the American public, and how we as a society view gender differences as a whole. Here are eight examples that, while they're not nearly as conspicuous as BIC for Her, prove that when we shop for our favorite products, we're engaging in a lot of the same assumptions in a not-so-subtle way.
Photo: Courtesy of Armani.
Armani offers a perfect example of a typically "male" design — strong and industrial, in dark colors, no frills attached. Meanwhile, the Diamond perfume (also advertised by Beyoncé) for women is obviously shiny, and maintains a more traditional perfume bottle silhouette.
Photo: Courtesy of Fresh.
Fresh is one of our favorite fragrance brands. Interestingly enough, when you click on the "Men's" tab of the brand's website, this Cannabis Santal perfume is the only option available (though it's also listed in the regular section). Hey, girls like weed, too...
Photo: Courtesy of Dove.
Caress and Dove are both Unilever brands (the same parent company also owns Axe). Again, we see the dark, un-fussy shape for the men's version, compared with a red or pink color and a more "feminine" silhouette for the women's product.
Photo: Courtesy of Herbal Essences/Anthony Logistics for Men.
Many brands dedicated specifically to men's products use vaguely scientific words, like Anthony Logistics for Men (no mention of beauty at all) or Lab Series Skincare for Men. Women's products tend to stick with more ethereal language. In this case, two volumizing shampoos make an interesting (though probably unintentional) comment about body image: The women's product is called "Body Envy"; the men's is called "Body Builder."
Photo: Courtesy of Clinique.
Clinique, owned by Estée Lauder, is not particularly feminine in its packaging, using colors like green or yellow for most products. However, the "for men" line is indicative of a fear that many brands seem to share, probably with good reason — that men are afraid to be seen buying or using beauty products traditionally seen as feminine.
Photo: Courtesy of Gillette.
The standard Gillette Venus is blue, but more recent editions feature curved lettering and brighter colors — while the men's products stick to orange, green, or dark blues, grays, and blacks.
Photo: Courtesy of Aveda.
Like Clinique, Aveda's products are fairly gender-neutral in their packaging, focusing more on the all-natural, plant-based aspect of the line. However, the brand does offer a series of products for men, and the packaging for all those items features more or less the same bottle shapes but darker, military colors.
Photo: Courtesy of Origins/Lab Series for Men.
Once again, the male-oriented product features chrome and silver (a common theme) while the women's version of anti-puffy eye cream uses pastels and brighter tones.
Photo: Courtesy of Axe.
Axe famously launched a women's-only line of deodorant recently, and went with an all-too-common pink.
Photo: Courtesy of Ms. Manicure/The Art of Shaving.
This men's manicure set (right) from The Art of Shaving comes in a nice, black leather case and costs $160 — it's also one of the few such kits specifically oriented at men. The rest are either neutral or, like this Ms. Manicure set (left), very strongly feminine.