Behaviour Change

PROPAGANDA FOR CHANGE is a project created by the students of Behaviour Change (ps359) and Professor Thomas Hills @thomhills at the Psychology Department of the University of Warwick. This work was supported by funding from Warwick's Institute for Advanced Teaching and Learning.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Commercial over-pinkification

“Female-focused” products tend to be, unsurprisingly, pink. But why is it normal to assume any product related to the female gender has to be packaged and promoted in pink, orange, or other such colours? This occurrence manifests across a variety of products, therefore implying an inherent sexism embedded in contemporary culture expressed commercially. Despite backlash companies get (I even found a Daily Mail article on it, which says a lot), the ‘pinkification’ of products continues to prevail.

Why do companies ignore protests?

Quick and easy way to attract women to products where percentage of consumers who are male exceed female?

It is interesting to note that some brands do not receive any criticism for their ‘pinkification’. One reason, perhaps, for allowing some brands, is because they have been able to persuade consumers there is a legitimate reason for the differing characterization of products. For example, simply stating the difference between men and women can enable the justification of having two separate products. For example, men tend to shave facial hair and less bodily hair, whereas the opposite applies to women. This difference justifies a difference in the products marketed.


Cognitive heuristic- stereotyping
The stereotypes emanated through ‘pinkification’ embody a heuristic used reflecting a “perception of social reality” which enables people to efficiently process social interactions.  This reduces cognitive load in the abundance of information we receive from the world (Biernat et al, 2003).
Lukšík’s (2003) defines gender stereotypes as:
“fixed, simplified, rigid and biased beliefs about a »appropriate and
 adequate« behaviour of men and women and their »appropriate
 and adequate« traits and other psychical and social qualities”.
Pinkified products befits this definition- society seems to have evolved to support the notion that pink is appropriate for women. This norm historically only arose in the 20th century. Prior to this, there was no universal “gender-colour symbolism” (Paoletti, 2012). Babies don’t tend to show a preference to pink- girl or boy, indicating a lack of biological mechanisms driving the colour bias we see marketed. However, at 2, girls start to show a pink preference and boys a pink avoidance, suggestive of a cultural influence (LoBoue & DeLoache, 2011) and a tendency to stick to ingroup behaviours once after application to the group, in this case gender.

Social Identity Theory
This suggests the success of pink products later in adult life has been successful due to the societal promotion of pink as a female colour, and in order to have a stable sense of self within a group, females buy the products. In other words, in order to stay in their ingroup, which has been labelled to be associated to pink, they buy pink products, as staying ingroup means validation of its beliefs and behaviours. The ingroup bias also reaffirms self-concept, which” derives from his knowledge of his membership in a social group” (Tajfel, 1981). The maintenance of self-concept is intrinsic to the social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1979), and posits the maximization of difference between groups when there is a preference for one.

Availability heuristic
This benefits companies, who can use a drive to maintain ingroup behaviours by driving up prices on gendered products despite the availability of an indentical/similar neutral or male product. The Times found women pay 37% more for equivalent products (Ellson, 2016). The strengthening of gender stereotypes is not surprising considering the ubiquitity of reinforcement. For example, Gallagher (2010) found up to 46% of the news portrayed gender stereotypes. This can be said to promote the tendency to utilize the availability heuristic (Tversky & Kahneman, 1973). This means the (pink) products women often see comes to mind more likely than less frequently seen products when deciding what to purchase. This is because it is easier to retrieve. A classic study depicting the availability heuristic in action is Tversky and Kahneman’s (1973) study, in which famous celebrities were recalled more often than less famous celebrities. The tendency towards change which will lower the number of encounters to stereotypical products, measured in advertisements and broadcasting has been too low to make a considerable difference in the way products are marketed (Bretl & Cantor, 1988; Lindner, 2004).

The arguments presented can be reflected in a variety of products and services across the global market, from the same arguments explaining male blue and black products, to the gender normal behaviour for females of cosmetics, cosmetic surgery, and so on. And until there is mass boycotting of neutral products that have become genderised by pink labels, they will be continued to be produced.

There are some arguments postulating a “stupid surcharge” on pink products, meaning free market consumers can choose what to buy, and women have the choice to buy cheaper alternatives. This, of course, is true, but why should we have to avoid the abundance of pinkified products if the same products for men are cheaper anyway? No demand means no supply, so boycotting these products may be the only means to ensure no unnecessary price difference between products in the future.  Also, on a wider scale, pinkification leads to pointless differentiation between men and women- should societies general promotion of binary gender really be implicated into what shampoo you buy?

A free market argument can be adapted to say: buy whatever product you like the most. Whether this should be a pink or blue razor is up to individual preference, but the indisputable point remains that a price difference between two items with the same function and ingredients/materials is reductionist in the current culture of slowly gaining equality. Persuasion techniques should be identified in this region so they can be overcome.


Biernat, M., Kobrynowicz, D., & Weber, D. L. (2003). Stereotypes and Shifting Standards: Some Paradoxical Effects of Cognitive Load. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 33, 2060–2079.

Bretl, D. J., & Cantor, J. (1988). The portrayal of men and women in U.S. television commercials: A recent content analysis and trends over 15 years. Sex Roles, 18, 595-609.

Ellson, A. (2016, January 19). Women charged more on ‘sexist’ high street. Retrieved from

Lindner, K. (2004). Images of women in general interest and fashion magazine advertisements from 1955 to 2002. Sex Roles, 51,409–20.

Lukšík, I. (2003). Gender Stereotypes [in:] Upgrade for Sexual Education. Bratislava: VEDA Publishing House.

LoBue, V., & DeLoache, J. S. (2011). Pretty in pink: the early development of gender-stereotyped colour preferences. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 29, 476-481.

Paoletti, J. (2012). Pink and Blue: Telling the Boys from the Girls in America. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.

Tajfel, H. (1981). Human Groups and Social Categories. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. The social psychology of intergroup relations?, 33, 47.

Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207–232.

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