When it comes to packaging, pink’s the colour of money

* 2 min read

The Times’ report into the “sexist high street” made a splash across all newspapers last week. Bic pens, disposable razors, even children’s scooters were all outed as items that cost more simply for being pink. The story created waves for consumers largely because while the products were by and large the same, the packaging implied the sex of the buyer – pink or red for girls, and blue for boys. And as predictably as the colourways, the girls paid more than the boys.

As I argued in The Drum at the tail-end of last year, sexism is as rife in packaging as it is elsewhere. This latest development demonstrates that consumer stereotyping hasn’t lost any steam. So what do we do about it?

Consumer reaction to the report ranged from bemused to robbed outrage – unsurprisingly, media seemed to focus on the latter. Actually, there’s a sensible middle ground.

Naturally, a level of gendered packaging is essential. Men and women are different and packaging will always reflect this to some extent. The same goes for the products themselves. We all know that triggers for purchase are dependent on our sex as they are on need status – and as such they can represent a creative opportunity for packaging designers. (Yorkie’s ‘It’s not for girls’ campaign, for instance, toyed with the subject of gender using reverse psychology. Consumers of both sexes got the joke and weren’t offended. It was a real coup from Yorkie and it got people buying its product.) 

Just as pertinently though, the notion of “pink for girls and only girls, blue is for boys and only boys” is outdated. The result is the slow but sure rise of genderless packs, and if the fallout from the Times’ research is giving brand owners pause for thought (if only because women are going to be paying a lot more attention to pink packs and price!) then you’ve got to applaud it.

Of course offensive or discriminating behaviour on the part of brand owners who overstep the mark by releasing a pink variant and hiking up the price for that reason alone is inexcusable. But gender in packaging can be tricky issue. I think as long as brands are savvy about it – and don’t cross the line between genuine product differences into colour-coded gender-based dishonesty – it’s okay to have a bit of fun and even celebrate the richness that comes from diversity.