The 'pink tax' is a disgrace and PRs must take a lead in the debate

The gender divide continues to be a fact of life all over the world. Women aren't just paid less for the same job; they also pay more for the same products.

PRs have a role to play in shaping the gender-neutral debate for consumer products, argues Natalie Luke
PRs have a role to play in shaping the gender-neutral debate for consumer products, argues Natalie Luke
US company Hearos fully embraced the imbalance recently, announcing new lines of earplugs. 

In what must surely rank as a new low in the gendered-products-on-shelves debacle, ‘Sleep Pretty in Pink’ for women and ‘Extreme Protection’ for men is a prime example of the 'Pink Tax'. 

We were all thinking things couldn’t get any worse since the Bic For Her ‘pen-gate’, but naturally the women’s version cost more.

Across all marketplaces, where companies spy an opportunity to increase profits, they will take it. 

The way we manage that message as PRs and shape client-consumer relations is an emerging challenge for our industry and one perhaps may argue that as a female-dominated industry we have a responsibility to take a lead here. 

Young people entering the consumer marketplace today are refusing to label themselves. 

Early adopters such as recent campaigns by brands Zara and Boots are refusing to label their customers. This is a refreshing take on the ongoing gender debate and it is great to see brands responding to their consumers' demands for a more gender-fluid approach. 

Brands need to continue performing in this space as young people's perception of gender is shifting.
But what impact has this had on the equal pricing debate? According to recent research, women pay 37 per cent more than men for everything from razors to pens, beauty products and clothes.  

Surely if there is a demand for gender fluidity then this rings a bell loud and clear that it is not right to be charging either gender more for the same items differently packaged.

As with any movement, the key to taking commercial advantage is to own the message. 

As PRs this may be a tricky path to tread – clients may feel that gender-neutral pricing may affect their bottom line. 

Only the weight of consumer opinion and a visible shift towards gender-neutral products at the expense of those with a large gender price gap will change the way companies behave. 

Hearos is not the only villain here – many well-known brands behave this way too, often aided and abetted by our industry. 

As message shapers, we are in a unique position to drive change in customer and client behaviour but it's a fine line between a hot marketing topic and brands actually following through to meet a genuine consumer demand.

One of my favourite campaigns last year came from creative advertising team Sali Horsey and Zoe Nash, who created spoof ad campaigns mocking the tampon tax ‘luxury item’ positioning. Placing tampons in ‘luxury’ ads in the same way as jewellery, perfume, or sunglasses, laughing in the face of such a ridiculous situation.

Gender causes are approaching a tipping point. 

Products and services that engage with this issue early will shape the message to their advantage. Early adopters will gain moral 'bragging rights'. They will continue to gain market share as a new breed of gender-fluid consumer gains buying power. 

Our industry is in a unique position to shape the gender-neutral debate at consumer and client levels – an opportunity and a responsibility we should embrace. 

Natalie Luke is the founder of Aduro Communications

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