Controversial Toyota Fortuner Ad: is it sexist or gender positioning?

In a world where every word spoken or written is criticized, being politically correct has taken center stage as an important focus for many brands. For some consumers, politically correct means to become neutral, advertising to a broad neutral audience rather than singling out a certain segment or group.

But, audience segmentation has been part of marketing almost since its inception, and has successfully launched brands to meteoric heights.

There is a reason why segmentation has always worked for marketing. It is because people want to feel special and people want to avoid being sold something they aren’t looking for.

Unfortunately, the consumers of today can be extremely critical of brands but criticism can be misplaced. Case in point is Toyota’s newest campaign for their 4×4 Fortuner, “Made for Men.”


There has been a bit of buzz concerning the campaign, which some media outlets have stated is “flat-out sexist” while in truth it is simply a by-product of gender positioning, a classic marketing technique used to maximize appeal to the correct audience.


Avoiding Spam through Segmentation

Grouping or audience segmentation is all about bringing relevant information and/or products to those already searching, and are highly willing to purchase or try a product/service. It helps refine campaigns to be less intrusive and more valuable to those it reaches, meaning less spam and more conversions.

Separating people by demographics, psychographics and gender is not just for the marketers’ benefit, but is also for the benefit of the uninterested.

Targeting a specific part of the population according to a specific trait or interest lets advertisers create less spam, as ads are more likely to only reach those who might be looking for the service/product.

Although segmentation is a classic marketing tool and technique, this doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been used incorrectly before. There are undoubtedly sexist advertisements, such as last Ramadan’s Skyline ad, but Toyota’s recent campaign is simply a case of mistaken identity.

Although cars are mostly gender-neutral, there is no denying that there are cars or car types that are favored more by a specific sex.

Audiences should remember that the exception to the rule (aka Skyline), is not the rule, and that gender positioning or audience segmentation does not aim to ridicule or stereotype others.


Brands aren’t Sexist, it’s called Positioning

Gender-positioning is nothing new. We can find it in many different products and industries, leaning towards either gender.

We can look at one of the world’s top branded chocolates, Galaxy, whose gender positioning has never been called in question, although chocolate is a gender-neutral product (unlike other feminine products such as Lux). For as far back as people remember, the brand has targeted females using personifications of the brand.

Stylish, elegant and timeless, these women and their campaigns were never really criticized or accused of saying that men couldn’t enjoy chocolate. It was silently accepted that it was the logical advertising choice by consumers.

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Although, in truth, men are not that far behind women in the consumption of chocolate. According to a report by CNN in 2012, “A UK study by research group Mintel revealed 91% of all women admit to eating chocolate – with the men not far behind at more than 87%.”

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And while many multinational brands have put their foot forwards in order to make their brands more gender-exclusive, that doesn’t mean that brands that continue to gender-position products are all sexist.

Toyota Fortuner campaign strategy was specifically formulated to cater to a very selected group of 45+, more affluent, professionally successful modern Egyptian men who in light of their maturity and privileged lifestyles have shed the raw power and impulsive drive of their younger years and who would now welcome a key message of liberation and empowerment to help them escape the drudgery of life.

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While Toyota could have been more tactful, their advert was not fully sexist, with the ad not mentioning any form of female stereotype or demeaning the fairer gender.


As of last night, at around 9:00PM, looking at a sample of 200 comments on the original Toyota video post, only 12% gave a negative review/comment. 20 comments complained about the ad’s “sexist” overtones. Otherwise, 19% of comments were positive while 65% were neutral.

A more important note in the criticism of the ad is its use of English voice over, without Arabic subtitles. This has led some viewers to believe that the campaign is international, but is actually a locally produced ad.

This leaves this as a case of mistaken identity; rather being sexist, the brand’s positioning was simple gender-positioning to the point where it made fun of its own audience.

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