truth/data backing up my intuition on gender marketing & music?
August 2, 2013 1:28 AM   Subscribe

I'm about to ask a—perhaps sexist—question about the possible differences in how men and women—broadly speaking—identify with songs in marketing. But first, some set-up. As a branding exercise, I've been working on tackling a fictitious start-up consisting of two fashion retailer brands. One's a men's brand, and one's a women's brand, both part of the same fictitious umbrella corporation. When fleshing out the details of any brand, I like to immerse myself in the environment of that brand as much as possible, approaching it almost like a method actor approaches a role. Part of this process for me is usually creating a playlist of music I identify as feeling right for that brand. Songs I can imagine playing in the store itself. I noticed my thought process behind selecting tracks for the menswear and womenswear brands were entirely different, and I'm wondering if there's any underlying truth or data to support my intuitions.

I know there's no way to make broad generalizations on gender without coming off sexist, but I hope these generalizations aren't taken that way. (Also please know that I'm having a terrible time translating my thoughts based on "intuition" into solid, concrete words and my thought process is by no means as black and white as I'm probably making them sound.) With that said, here goes:

My intuition or preconceived prejudices have led me to selecting tracks for the menswear brand which are more driven by the character of the artist/performer. If I picked Jimi Hendrix, Cody Chesnutt, Iron & Wine, etc. it was because of a certain swagger or attitude/vibe put off by the artist that I felt men could relate to. This playlist was almost entirely male performers.

For the womenswear playlist, I felt more compelled to select tracks based on their message. The songs I picked, by artists like Erin McKeown, Sufjan Stevens, Etta James and Ann Peebles were more based on stories and feelings I felt women could relate to. This playlist was a much more even distribution of female and male performers, although leaning slightly more to the female end.

Both playlists are selling fantasies, but in my mind, the menswear playlist sells the fantasy of an identity men would find attractive for themselves whereas the womenswear playlist sells the fantasy of a life women would find attractive or how they'd like to react to a certain situation rather than the character they want to be seen as.

So my questions are if there's any truth behind my thinking, any data or studies to back up this intuition? Failing that specifically, are there any good studies on music in marketing aimed at audiences of specific genders?
posted by ferdinandcc to Religion & Philosophy (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

I'm completely confused by this question. You've made exactly no mention whatsoever of who either of your brands is aimed at. What's the demographic? "All women ever?" Really?

Maybe if you narrow it down to a specific age group, location, income bracket, etc etc then you'll find it easier to make broad generalisations about what kind of music people might prefer.

I suggest that any data gathered that relates to "all women ever" will be so diluted as to be meaningless in the context of your specific demographic, whatever that may be.
posted by emilyw at 2:03 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm sorry I didn't make the question more clear. I'm not looking for answers about what songs to choose, and the question's not about the brands so the specific target market isn't that relevant here. I realize there are many more aspects of a demographic's emotional response to music than just their gender, but I'm wondering if there's any truth to my thoughts that women might be more interested in a song's subject and men more interested in an artist's persona (broadly speaking), and if anyone's done any relevant studies on men's and women's emotional responses to music—especially studies that relates that back to music in marketing. Ignore the branding part, that's just set-up to explain why I got to be curious about the topic in the first place.
posted by ferdinandcc at 2:16 AM on August 2, 2013

Response by poster: Also, I don't expect there'll be any studies that come to the specific conclusion I've come to, at least not how I've worded it, because that would be oddly specific. But any studies on the psychology of music in marketing towards gender-specific audiences that might help illuminate the subject for me and see if any of the differences the researchers find line up in any way with my preconceived thoughts, or completely nullify them.
posted by ferdinandcc at 2:24 AM on August 2, 2013

It sounds maybe like you are just seeing a microcosm of the broad idea where the males of many species are the showoffs, competing for the attentions of females with their swagger, and females compete for male attention by being more nurturing. Or something along those lines.
posted by gjc at 2:41 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: It's very likely connected to that, you're right.
posted by ferdinandcc at 2:45 AM on August 2, 2013

Mod note: Possibly helpful: Young People’s Musical Taste: Relationship With Gender and Gender-Related Traits PDF, by Ann Colley, University of Leicester. (Similar articles.)
posted by taz (staff) at 2:51 AM on August 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Dude with marketing degree here: perhaps you, being male, find it easier to identify with the male audience and imagine yourself as one of them, and when it comes to women you are less successful in imagining yourself in their shoes.

I'd also say from your few examples on the male side that you may be going down the traditional path of "it's a man's product so we must have manly men doing manly things gharr" c.f. every shaving cream commercial. Our advertising predecessors have stamped that in our DNA pretty hard, and it's a hard mold to break out of.

Just off the top of my head I can think of many commercials and much music where the appeal seems (at least to me) either aspirational (I want to be that person), message driven, or both, aimed at either gender. In my opinion, every housecleaning product commercial I've ever seen is "aspirational" in a rather sick way, and I'm surprised there hasn't been more criticism of it: if I buy your floor-cleaning crap, I'll be this woman with flat abs and a nice butt in an outfit that's a cross between an exercise outfit and something to go shopping in happily making the floor shine in my post-modern June Cleaver house, and it won't bother me that THE KIDS ARE MAKING A FUCKING MESS AND MY HUSBAND ISN'T HELPING GODDAMMIT.

Where was I? I think all marketing is somewhat aspirational at some level "buy our shit and look like our model/actor, male or female." Like our June Cleaver example, I feel a certain amount of pressure when the guy who looks like Tom Cruise in his prime sands the garage on his day off with his Wagner Power Widget and doesn't get those unsightly sweat stains on his grey t-shirt. But then marketing is about producing anxiety that can be relieved by buying stuff, so...

The more I write, the harder a time I have separating this idea of identify/aspire with the idea of a "message," whatever that means. Outside of PSAs, few commercials deliver a "message," and even when they do it's pretty bound up with aspirational ideas. If you argue that a Trojan commercial can deliver a message for safer sex, or the Dove ads deliver a message about positive self-identity, OK, but it also comes back to "buy our stuff and be this cool person." If you can find a commercial that doesn't go that route on some level, be it for men, women or a mixed audience, please give me some examples.

Even in music, I think mainstream artists of both genders, and who appeal to either gender, have an appeal that's bound up in aspiration more so than the significance of their message. As I think about less commercial music, independent artists, and gigging musicians I know personally, I think the attention turns more to the music for its own sake as opposed to "be like me," but...

Back to your original question and the assumptions thereof, if there's a gender difference that informs (or misinforms) any of this, I'd say it's this: stereotypically (and with many exceptions), men are more oriented to stuff, and women are more oriented to relationships. I'm not so much trying to defend this as an absolute truth (because I can't) as I am trotting it out as a self-perpetuating assumption, i.e. part of how we're socialized. One of MY biases is that people who buy their own gender stereotype as a child and play it up to 11 tend to be stupid, or were raised by stupid people, or both. Guys who live in the garage and think classical music is for sissies, gals who wear makeup to the gym and gossip a lot because they're told that's what they're supposed to be doing: stupid.

And in my opinion, stupid people are more bound up in trying to "be like" other people, smarter people are more interested in hearing messages which might help them be better versions of themselves. And I believe stupidity is evenly distributed across more genders, and of course, more prevalent than you think.

Well, this has been rambly - hope it helps. To boil it down to a thesis, try thinking along the smart/stupid axis, not the gender one.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:02 AM on August 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Mod note: Let's focus here on the question as clarified in the OP's follow-up comments, particularly the request for "relevant studies on men's and women's emotional responses to music—especially studies that relate that back to music in marketing." More general advice can be sent via Mefi Mail. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 6:11 AM on August 2, 2013

Response by poster: Haha, it's such a hard topic to talk about without getting all abstract and rambly, I know. I gotcha, though. I also hate gender-targeted ads that feel pandering. Super machismo for the men and delicate and floral for the women. And your answer has actually been really helpful for something else I'm working on.

I'd still be interested in any studies on the psychology of how men and women respond to music—most likely due to societal constructs—though.
posted by ferdinandcc at 6:14 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Maybe you could start by researching the people who've already done it? Believe it or not, Muzak still exists and they're making a killing designing music and experience for retail and other environments (not just elevators any more).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:01 AM on August 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I apologize for not having any studies to link to at the moment, but one area to look into may be the commonly-held thought that women tend to have stronger language skills. Anecdotally, I tend to prefer songs (by any artist) where the lyrics strike a chord with me (see what I did there), while my boyfriend cares more about the overall sound.
posted by DulcineaX at 7:08 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Good idea about Muzak or some other commercial source of music - if anyone has any actual data on what men or women really like, it's that industry. As more and more music is streaming, perhaps more data will emerge on what listeners are liking and disliking in real time. You might look and see if Pandora, iTunes, or like sources have any data (that they're releasing).
posted by randomkeystrike at 3:29 PM on August 2, 2013

If I step into a stereotypical gender-stereotype mode of thinking, the first explanation that popped into my head was that as a man, you feel confident that the strong, cool-sounding music belongs to you, that any man can rightly identify with it if he chooses without needing to know "what it means." But women, we're always asking that socieity stop judging us superficially and lumping us all together as if "women" are an entity, and instead value women as individuals for their contributions and talents, and to listen to what we're saying.

posted by desuetude at 7:06 PM on August 2, 2013

Response by poster: @desuetude: I think you're right to a point, although I feel the same way about men in that regard (and don't think my music chosen would fit with the every-man, but more a specific niche of men that are perhaps more sensitive and/or confident in their sexuality). Believe me, I hate the Tonka truck / XTreme aesthetic of most things that are marketed towards men.

Actually, I felt it easier making the playlist for women. Maybe because I feel women in general are less likely to care about image when listening to music, whereas there are certain things that many men (not all) won't be caught dead listening to. And maybe my sensitivities naturally lean towards the feminine side of the spectrum, as my favorite artist is Fiona Apple and I love a lot of things society would consider girly (i.e. fashion shows, interior design shows).

The music I chose was more of what I wish would be played at a store, rather than what I'm currently hearing at stores (although those of you in big cities probably have many more stores where the person who picks out music has similar tastes to mine).
posted by ferdinandcc at 12:27 AM on August 3, 2013

Mod note: Folks, we need to stick to answering the question rather than having a chat about the topic.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:51 AM on August 3, 2013

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