Last Friday, new Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules came into force. The aim is to ban companies from including harmful gender stereotypes in advertising that the ASA says could cause serious or widespread offence, and in doing so restrict the choices, aspirations, and opportunities of children and young people, as well as adults.
While every business that advertises needs to conform to these rules or risk a ban on their advertising, they are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing negative stereotypes.
Our research shows that there is not only an ethical imperative but a business imperative behind more progressive, less stereotypical ads. For example, data from BrandZ shows that brands which are gender balanced or even slightly “female-skewed” outperform brands that are skewed more towards men – with $1bn in brand value being “left on the table” by brands that focus more on men.
Men still in charge
And yet, still we see that men are 38 per cent more likely to be featured prominently than women in advertising. Even when both genders appear, more ads feature men playing leading roles: 21 per cent versus just 15 per cent of women.
The good news is that there are a number of industry initiatives underway to address this. Forward-looking businesses, including Unilever, Diageo, and P&G, have come together to change industry practice, forming the Unstereotype Alliance to collectively enact more progressive advertising.
This is more than just a challenge of men versus women, as 76 per cent of female and 71 per cent of male consumers believe that the way they are portrayed in advertising is completely out of touch with reality.
The business case
Adverts which depict people in the most progressive roles substantially outperform ads which consumers consider to be the least progressive. They are, on average, 25 per cent more likely to achieve the highest scores for advertising effectiveness (including enjoyment, relevance, and engagement), which are critical if brands want to see a sales impact from their marketing investment. Great examples include Adidas’ 2018 World Cup ad “Create the answer”, which showcased a broad range of talent, and the recent stereotype-challenging RAF campaign “Women should be defined by actions, not cliches”.
To challenge and change the status quo on gender stereotypes, advertisers need to show society not as it is now or once was, but present viewers with a future vision of how the world could and should be.
We need to remember that getting there is an ongoing process and not a single action. There will be highs and lows, and it will take perseverance to succeed, but moving beyond stereotypes is a noble goal for any business.