Watchmakers are finally getting the memo that some men are partial to smaller watches decorated with diamonds, just like some women like to wear big timepieces—or would, if anyone bothered marketing to them. In an effort to boost sales, and reduce any stigma attached to shopping across the gender line, some watch companies are removing gender designations altogether. Instead of offering a men’s line of large watches, and a women’s line of smaller, more glittery items, these companies are beginning to sort their watches into gender-neutral, size-based categories instead.

Zenith will soon be removing gender labels from its website. Watchfinder & Company, a pre-owned watch seller, has already done so. More and more companies also are asking for genderless designations in their design briefs, which they send to freelance watch designers. According to one of Watchfinder & Company’s cofounders, “We feel that categorizing a watch as either men’s or women’s is now both redundant, restrictive and outdated,” because “Everyone should be able to choose whatever style they want, without being dictated as to whether it is suitable for their gender.”

Such shifts and reconsiderations of long-standing segmentation methods appear largely in response to younger consumers’ preferences. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center report, 35 percent of Gen Z respondents prefer to communicate in gender-neutral language. They object to limiting the gender options available on forms to “male” and “female,” and they find marketing that uses such categories insufficient and inapplicable to their lives.

Companies in various sectors have taken similar steps, sometimes long ago. In 2015 for example, Target announced it would no longer sort toys into those for girls and those for boys. The brand marketing firm Lantana noted in a recent piece that fashion lines, makeup lines, and LEGO toys have all embraced gender-neutral marketing. And now, watches. For critics, the moves might seem like a signal of political correctness. But for savvy marketers, eliminating strict gender categories is an excellent way to signal to consumers that their brands are aligned with their values, beliefs, and preferences.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why are watch companies moving toward gender-neutral marketing?
  2. In what other product sectors could (or should) brands embrace gender-neutral marketing efforts?
  3. What else would you advise watch companies to do, to draw in younger customers?

Source: Nazanin Lankarani, “Taking Gender Out of Watches,” The New York Times, January 27, 2022; Carol Besler, “Does The Watch Industry Ignore Women? Yes and No,” ablogtowatch.com, May 9, 2021; “Target Stores Removing Gender Designations for Toy Sections,” Garden Center, August 11, 2015; Kristina Monllos, “Brands Are Throwing out Gender Norms to Reflect a More Fluid World,” Adweek, October 17, 2016; Elena Prokopets, “Gender-Neutral Marketing: It’s More than a Trend,” Lantana, May 3, 2022