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5 essentials for brands engaging with the fluid gender identities of gen Z

By James Benenson | Managing Director

NERDS Collective


The Drum Network article

This content is produced by The Drum Network, a paid-for membership club for CEOs and their agencies who want to share their expertise and grow their business.

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June 5, 2023 | 7 min read

Drawing from work by brands like Fenty Beauty and Nike, James Benenson of agency Nerds Collective reiterates the importance of awareness and education for brands.

Blue love heart graffiti on wall

Brands must stay educated if they are to genuinely evolve, says Nerds Collective's James Benenson / Bekky Bekks

With large organizations making conscious changes to advocate for diversity (like Virgin Atlantic's decision to remove the requirement for gendered staff uniforms on its flights), gen Z has influenced a significant shift in societal norms, including a more fluid understanding of gender identities.

As gen Z consumers continue to embrace and celebrate diversity, it becomes imperative for marketers to adapt to effectively reach and engage this demographic. But how?

1. Educate and stay informed

Marketers must first educate themselves on the wide range of gender identities and expressions that exist today. Understanding the concepts of gender fluidity, non-binary identities, and genderqueer experiences is crucial.

Staying informed about evolving terminology and concepts through research, attending workshops, and listening to voices from diverse communities will enable marketers to be more inclusive and avoid unintentional misrepresentations.

2. Embrace authenticity and diversity

Gen Z consumers are drawn to authentic and diverse representations. It is essential for marketers to reflect the true diversity of gender identities in their campaigns, advertisements, and brand messaging.

Rather than relying on stereotypes, marketing efforts should aim to portray individuals with varied gender identities in meaningful and empowering ways. Collaborating with influencers, activists, and community leaders who identify as non-binary or gender non-conforming can provide valuable insights and help ensure authenticity.

3. Tailor marketing strategies

The marketing industry must recognize that gender is no longer a binary concept and tailor their strategies accordingly. Traditional gender-based marketing approaches may not resonate with gen Z consumers who reject rigid categorizations.

Instead, brands should focus on values, shared experiences, and personal aspirations. Marketing campaigns should emphasize inclusivity and be designed to resonate with individuals across the gender spectrum.

4. Engage in open dialogue

Establishing an open dialogue with gen Z consumers is essential. Encourage feedback, actively listen, and respond to their concerns and perspectives on gender representation.

Social media platforms provide an excellent avenue for engaging with this demographic. Brands can create spaces for discussion, share stories of diverse individuals, and amplify voices from different gender identities. This not only fosters trust and loyalty, but demonstrates a genuine commitment to inclusivity.

5. Avoid tokenism and stereotyping

Tokenism and stereotyping can be detrimental to any marketing campaign. Gen Z consumers are keenly aware of inauthentic representation and will not hesitate to call out brands that exploit or appropriate gender identities for commercial gain.

Avoid treating gender fluidity as a trend or marketing gimmick. Instead, commit to long-term inclusivity and representation in every aspect of your brand, from product design to hiring practices.

Leading by example: Fenty Beauty and Nike

Brands like Fenty Beauty have led the charge with a show-don’t-tell, inclusive approach. In Fenty’s case, overhauling the beauty industry by offering an extensive range of foundation shades that catered to diverse skin tones.

By prioritizing inclusivity and representing a wide range of ethnicities and genders in their marketing campaigns, Fenty Beauty has cut through with gen Z consumers who appreciate brands that celebrate diversity and challenge outdated beauty standards.

Back in 2021 Nike's ‘Just Do It: Play New’ campaign celebrated the idea that sport is for everyone, regardless of gender identity. The campaign featured non-binary and gender non-conforming athletes, emphasizing inclusivity and breaking traditional gender barriers in sports, challenging the tired norms of sport-style campaigns and striving to promote equality.

Reading the room

As the marketing industry evolves, it is becoming increasingly crucial to recognize and respect the fluidity of gender identities among gen Z consumers. By educating ourselves, embracing authenticity and diversity, tailoring strategies, engaging in open dialogue, and avoiding tokenism, marketers can start to respectfully and successfully navigate the rapidly evolving youth landscape and build meaningful connections with this influential demographic.

Embracing inclusivity and celebrating diverse gender identities will not only drive business success but also contribute to a more inclusive society at large.

Marketing Brand Purpose Brand Safety

Content by The Drum Network member:

NERDS Collective

NERDS Collective was founded by Luke Hodson In 2013 as a specialist agency that places brands at the frontline of street culture through hyper-nuanced consumer insights, cultural strategy, and creative content. In addition, the collective intended to spotlight and champion inner-city individuals and grassroots communities by finding ways brands can play a more meaningful role in their world.

The foundation of the agency was URBAN NERDS, an iconic live music platform forged in London’s East End in 2007, to champion underground sounds and support emerging scenes through a series of industry-leading warehouse parties, club residencies and festivals that saw the brand break raw British talent to crowds of thousands across Europe. NERDS have been living and shaping youth culture since 07’, it's this experience that gives the company its authentic voice.

Government spending on youth initiatives and services has been cut by 70% since 2010. We believe brands have the resources and means to create a positive impact within the youth communities that need it most, especially as inner-city youth drive cultural equity and heat for most brands.

Our mission is to help brands cultivate a purposeful connection with youth culture, focused on marginalised, unrepresented and under-resourced youth.

Nerdy about youth culture since '07.

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