It’s no surprise that brands that don’t adapt to a changing marketplace are destined to die out. So why do we see so many brands that fail to keep up with the times?
Geeks and Girls: An Example of Industry Shift
Let’s take a look at the geek industry. ‘Geek’ typically refers to things such as comic books, video games, card games like Magic: The Gathering, and cult sci-fi shows like Dr Who, Star Trek, and Firefly. For decades, this industry has been viewed as the domain of men; when we picture a comic book convention, we picture male twenty-somethings wandering around a tradeshow hall with stacks of dusty comic books in their arms. The episode-accurate Klingon costume is optional, of course.
For many reasons—a generational shift, a change in pop culture, even seven years of The Big Bang Theory bridging the gap between geeks and Muggles—the last ten years has seen a significant shift in the geek demographics; in 2004, a trip to Comic-Con would have shown a 4:1 ratio of male to female attendees, whereas now the stats show women make up about half of con-goers on a regular basis. Rob Spittall, owner of The Comic Book Shoppe in Ottawa, Ontario, says his clientele daily is a 50/50 gender split.
Fearing the New Wave
So why do the industry’s brands seem to be struggling with the transition? While half of your audience are people with breasts and smaller frames, my intensive review of conventions over the past twelve months has shown that most tee shirts, accessories, and screen-accurate retail costume pieces are still produced in men’s sizes. My 5’4” best friend was heartily disappointed to learn that she was unable to find a Storm Trooper costume in her size, even for ready money.
Systemic Barriers to Changing Your Marketing
The geek gender bias runs deeper than merchandise, though. The shops and brands themselves seem loathe to shift their thinking and accept the new wave of curvier, estrogen-producing fans. Anecdotal accounts show that many women-centric groups have a hard time finding sponsors for geeky sites or events, and female fans face enough harassment on a regular basis that the development of ‘harassment policies’ is a hot topic in the comic book shop and convention world. I haven’t checked the stats, but I can’t recall a time I’ve heard of another trade show needing a custom-made harassment policy, do you? A dog show? Stamp collector’s guild? Miniature dollhouse enthusiasts?
Don’t Just Accept the New Wave – Make it Happen
The reality is, the girls want in and the geek industry—one already threatened by the advent of e-books and pirated TV and movies—needs to make way for the lady consumers. If the typical argument is that this demographic is not yet strong enough to warrant attention and product development, why wait for the critical mass to hit? Why not encourage it along?
Small inroads are starting, with things like the new hit X-Men series, which is based entirely around the female characters and has had shockingly high sales (though ironically is still written and created by men); and strong heroines like the “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” protagonists are making ‘girl’ synonymous with ‘butt kicker’ again. But comic book shops and merchandise producers can do a lot more, by welcoming women with small gestures: make shirts in women’s sizes, for example, or sponsor local geek girl events. And maybe once in a while, draw a female character in a real fighting stance instead of a ‘look up my skirt’ pose.
Be the Wave
The more power the brands give a demographic, the stronger that demographic will grow. Instead of being afraid of the unknown, why not embrace and nurture it. Part of marketing is showing the consumer that they should be buying your product, right?
Instead of fearing an industry shift and being bowled over by the ‘critical mass’, embrace it. Do more than just surf the wave: feed the wave. You’d be surprised at how much brand loyalty can be earned through early adoption like this. Take a look at Red Bull and…oh, just about every cockamamie extreme sport out there.
So the next time you take a good hard look at your audience and realize something’s starting to change, ask yourself what you can do to get that wave really rolling. Four times as many women at a convention isn’t a threat: it’s a four times larger audience than you ever had before. Embrace it.
Changing With the Times: A Case Study of Consumer Shift and Brand Push-Back