In fact, today, one of the biggest questions facing the advertising industry is: how can we shift the way women are portrayed in ads so that we improve outcomes for half the world’s population?
Exploding the stereotypes
There is plenty of useful information on how we can accelerate more women into senior positions, but we’ve talked far less about what our ads say about the role of women in society.
Unfortunately, despite the fact that in the real world women work in a wide range of jobs and have significant responsibilities and interests that extend far beyond looking good, ads still tend to typecast women as housewives and sex symbols.
In June 2016, Unilever unveiled internal research based on analysis of 1,000 ads from around the world. It found that half of the ads portrayed women in stereotypical ways, with just 1% conveying them as funny, 2% showing them as intelligent and 3% depicting them as leaders. Yet, interestingly, the research also found that the more progressive ads — which showed women in less stereotypical roles — actually had a 12% greater impact, because consumers felt more involved with those ads.
The good news is that, while the advertising industry still actively perpetrates unhelpful and misleading perceptions of women, it is also in a powerful position to change those perceptions. This point was a key finding of a roundtable organized by EY’s Women3.The Power of Three, part of our Women. Fast forward platform. At the roundtable, participants highlighted the need for brand owners, creative agencies and media buyers to better understand both the gender issues that exist and how the media can have a positive impact on societal attitudes and beliefs.
A clear purpose
Since consumers increasingly favor brands that demonstrate integrity and purpose, I believe this is a great opportunity for advertisers, marketers and media buyers to come together, as an industry, and make a difference for the greater good.
Ultimately, the advertising industry doesn’t just have a moral obligation to reconsider how it portrays women; it must also heed a powerful economic imperative. Women drive an estimated 70% to 80% of consumer spending, according to Female Factor. The most meaningful and relevant brands of the future will undoubtedly be powered by ads that depict women as funny, intelligent and responsible leaders.
This article initially appeared in Campaign under the title: “Shifting the way women are portrayed in the media can help close the gender gap.”