Gender-Specific Energy Bars: Nutritional Need or Marketing Ploy?

Energy bars are in high-performance mode at the cash register. The market research group Packaged Facts estimates that by 2016 the total retail sales of energy and nutrition bars in the U.S. will reach $4.5 billion. That's a lot of bars. Consumers are both male and female, but the pitch of "this bar's for you," if you will, isn't always the same.

Whether in words or visuals, some energy bar advertisements stress performance; others emphasize nutrition and wellness. The Luna Bar, made by Clif Bar & Company, trademarks its product as "The Whole Nutrition Bar for Women." On the other hand, Supreme Protein boasts a Team Supreme of famous athletes (most, but not all men) including NFL players, Major League Baseball players and pro wrestlers. Supreme Protein's most familiar face, however, may be that of blonde fitness model Lisa Gleave.

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But is energy-bar marketing gender specific, and to what extent?

The Advertising Angle

You'll find professionals in the advertising world who think so, like Ryan Berman, chief creative officer and co-founder of the i.d.e.a. agency in San Diego.

"It's the way brands were built," Berman says. "Anything that alludes even in the name and the packaging to energy or power seems to lean male. With Clif Bar it's a guy on a cliff, it's about pushing you forward, a progressive boost you need to get you over that finish line. On the female side, it's more about balance, maintaining surges vs. this aggressive 'be stronger, move forward.' Luna is all about that balance."

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Berman, who is a Clif Bar consumer and whose wife "is in Luna land," suggests that loyalty to a specific energy bar is not earned in a TV ad or in print, but in the supermarket aisle.

"I think you've got to nail your brand from the get-go: the packaging, the look," Berman says. "That's the big differentiator. You create your tribe."

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Mathew Curtis is a clinical assistant professor at the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Curtis says years of advertising messages have fostered the perception that "men are more competitive and females are more in touch with their inner core." As related to energy bars, he says, "The impression is that males are more focused on function ... whereas with women it's often more about the flavor and the taste and how it's nutritional. It's not so much about making you run faster as making you healthier."

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About the Author

David L. Coddon

David Coddon is a contributor to a number of Southern California publications, both online and in print. He is a lecturer in journalism at San Diego State University and an adjunct professor of English at San Diego Mesa and Cuyamaca colleges. When not on deadline or in the classroom, he can be found on the tennis court or on a hiking trail, preferably one with an ocean view.

David Coddon is a contributor to a number of Southern California publications, both online and in print. He is a lecturer in journalism at San Diego State University and an adjunct professor of English at San Diego Mesa and Cuyamaca colleges. When not on deadline or in the classroom, he can be found on the tennis court or on a hiking trail, preferably one with an ocean view.

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