This study examined the influence of consumer gender on the evaluation of cross-gender brand extensions of gendered brands, with a large sample of consumers with various ages and social classes. Three gendered brands were analyzed in three product categories. For extensions to the masculine, the chosen categories were face skincare (product category with feminine image) and shampoo (product category with low masculinity/femininity); for extensions to the feminine, the chosen category was soda drinks (product category with low masculinity/femininity).
Contrary to Jung and Lee (2006), this research found that biological gender had no significant effect on the acceptance of cross-gender brand extensions: overall, men were as receptive as women toward these offers, with no impact on the three dependent variables (attitude, purchase intent, and fit). As a consequence, biological sex also had no influence on the evaluation of the parent brand post extension, contrasting with the trend observed by Jung and Lee (2006). Their study was conducted in Korea and Singapore, and was limited to undergraduate students with two product categories. In contrast, the current research provides evidence that their findings cannot be generalized to consumers of various ages in western cultures with other product categories of different gender image (strongly feminine or low masculine/feminine). It indicates that biological gender is not a meaningful variable to explain consumer acceptance of cross-gender brand extensions in a western culture with a moderate degree of masculinity/femininity, like France. As Hofstede pointed out (1985, 2001), cultures differ in terms of their masculinity/femininity, and gender roles tend to blur in nations displaying higher femininity. Indeed, France scores slightly more strongly for femininity than the United States, yet far below Sweden, Norway, or the Netherlands. France has a moderate score on masculinity, while Korea and Singapore—like most Asian countries—have high masculinity scores. The current results could most probably be generalized to western countries with similar patterns of masculinity/femininity, and to countries with a higher degree of femininity. This also underlines the importance of taking into account the cultural dimension and generalizing intercultural studies for further research on gender differences; for example, the study by Feiereisen, Broderick, and Douglas (2009).
The current research findings provide evidence that specific factors of consumer multifactorial gender do influence the evaluation of cross-gender brand extensions, while others do not.
First, as predicted, gender role attitudes have a significant effect on this acceptance: consumers with traditional gender attitudes are less favorable to these extensions than egalitarian consumers, with significantly lower attitude and purchase intent toward the extensions, and directionally lower perception of fit. In addition, a reciprocal effect on the initial brands was observed: gender attitudes also influenced the evaluation of parent brands post extension, with a lower attitude for traditional as opposed to egalitarian individuals, and a significant difference in the pre/post attitude shift scores among the two groups. Cross-gender extension had a negative reciprocal effect on the parent brand for traditional consumers, whereas pre/post attitude shift scores increased for egalitarian consumers.
Overall, this research shows significant differences between traditional and egalitarian consumers in evaluating these extensions, independently of consumer gender identity (masculinity/femininity) or biological sex.
Thus, the gender attitudes construct appears relevant to explain consumer behavior in gender-related contexts: here for the acceptance of cross-gender brand extensions, as previously for the preference for masculine/feminine brands (Alreck, Settle, & Belch, 1982) or in the context of gift buying (Fischer & Arnold, 1994). The study helps show the theoretical importance of this construct for consumer research, and the relevance of the GAI (Ashmore, Del Boca, & Bilder, 1995) measure. It should be noted that gender attitudes had only a directional effect on overall fit for the subsamples per brand. This lower impact on fit rather than on the other dependent variables may be based on the degree to which the questions pertain to individual choice. The fit construct does not ask respondents to imagine themselves as consumers intending to evaluate and purchase the extension: they are just asked whether the product “fits” the parent brand, with rational items (“corresponds well,” “seems logical”) that do not put them in the position of a consumer considering buying the product. This may explain why the effect of gender attitudes is only directional on the fit variable, while significant on the attitude and purchase intent toward the extensions.
Second, as predicted, consumer sexual orientation has no significant influence on the evaluation of cross-gender brand extensions, contrary to gender attitudes. Homosexual male consumers are no more receptive than heterosexuals to feminine brands expanding to the male target (and vice versa). In addition, sexual orientation does not affect the evaluation of mother brands post extension. This adds to previous findings indicating that sexual orientation has no impact on perception of brand gender (Ulrich, Tissier-Desbordes, & Dubois, 2010), and corroborates those from Troiden (1988), suggesting that gender factors other than sexual orientation may have a more crucial role in explaining individual reactions.
Third, gender identity does not significantly influence consumer acceptance of cross-gender brand extensions, contrary to expectations. For all the dependent variables, only a directional effect was found in the predicted direction for masculine in comparison to androgynous or undifferentiated individuals. Moreover, gender identity had no significant effect among feminine respondents compared to androgynous/undifferentiated respondents, and no directional effect in the expected direction for the dependent variables. Hence, consumers' gender identity, captured via the PAQ instrument, is not predictive of how they evaluate cross-gender extensions and parent brands post extension. This contributes to prior findings in consumer research, where gender identity was less meaningful than gender role attitudes to explain behaviors (Fischer & Arnold, 1994). Spence (1993) indicates that the PAQ and the BSRI instruments should be used only in situations where instrumental/expressive traits are relevant. Though gender identity appears as a valuable construct to explain consumer responses in many studies on gender portrayals in advertising (Feiereisen, Broderick, & Douglas, 2009; Jaffe, 1991, 1994; Martin & Gnoth, 2009), it is not meaningful for the evaluation of cross-gender brand evaluations: a context where instrumentality and expressiveness do not appear pertinent.
Incidentally, the present study also indicates that consumer age has no effect on the acceptance of cross-gender extensions and in return on the parent brand. Though age comparison was not a specific objective of the research, this adds to the understanding of consumer behavior, and to the work of Jung and Lee (2006), who suggested that age could affect the perception of extensions across gender but did not check it.
This research provides many insights for managers with regard to cross-gender extensions from gendered brands. In cultures with moderate to high femininity like France (Hofstede, 2001), marketers can consider that these extensions can be accepted equally by men and women. However, consumers with traditional gender attitudes, whatever their age and biological sex, will show more reluctance toward cross-gender extensions: the potential market for these extensions is primarily limited to consumers with egalitarian attitudes to gender.
Hence, converting a new male (female) target to the new cross-gender extension of a previously feminine (masculine) brand will probably require time. Market share objectives for this extension should account for the limitation of consumer targets to “egalitarian” individuals. In addition, marketers in charge of gendered brands with low market shares should carefully consider expanding the franchise to the opposite biological sex, since business potential in the long term may be restricted. Managers launching a cross-gender brand extension could try to better target “egalitarian” individuals in optimizing their media plan—selecting print magazines, Internet sites, or TV channels whose target is most in line with “egalitarian” individuals—and in adjusting the way they communicate to best reflect the expectations of these consumers in terms of gender role portrayal or selection of models, as per previous work of Martin and Gnoth (2009) or Feiereisen, Broderick, and Douglas (2009).
Another direct implication of this research for managers is that age has no impact on consumer acceptance of cross-gender brand extensions, so specific products targeting senior consumers can be developed within the extension franchise. Finally, sexual orientation has no direct influence on variations in consumer behavior as regards these extensions. This is important for managers, as some were previously tempted to target gay consumers when expanding brands from the feminine to the masculine (as in the cosmetic market), and the finding has direct implications for communications and media planning.
Limitations and Further Research
However, there are some limitations to this study. It examined three brands in three product categories: one category with a strongly feminine gender, the other two categories with low femininity/masculinity. It would be interesting to generalize the results to product categories with a strong masculine image. Second, the findings are limited to cultures with a moderate degree of masculinity/femininity like France, which scores 42 on the masculinity scale (Hofstede, 2001); an avenue for further research might be to check whether the results could be replicated in countries with higher scores in masculinity, like the United States, China, or Japan, which score, respectively, 62, 66, and 95 on the masculinity scale (Hofstede, 2001). Moreover, as consumers with traditional gender attitudes are reluctant to accept cross-gender extensions, it seems probable that the stronger the gender of the parent brand, the stronger the reluctance of these individuals would be. Future research could examine this influence of the initial gender of the parent brand on consumers' acceptance of cross-gender extensions. Finally, some highly feminine brands have limited success on the marketplace when extended to the masculine (as in the skincare market); future research could explore the relative influence of the brand gender in comparison to the gender attitudes of the consumer on the evaluation of these extensions.