Breaking stereotypes - an advertiser steps away from the "norm"

2:23 PM, 12 July 2016

Advertiser Unilever breaks away from stereotypes

Coming from the world's second-biggest advertiser, which spends $12 billion (NZD) a year around the world on more than 400 brands, a public strategy to "unstereotype" its advertising and eliminate outdated portrayals of gender was going to attract attention. So what has led to this:

Launching the pledge, Unilever's CMO Keith Weed said that the company had carried out a number of research projects with research company Millward Brown to find out the impact of stereotypes in advertising and explore the "evolution" of women's identity. This found that the issue of stereotyping, conscious or otherwise, is most acute in the portrayal of women.

Women don't identify with how advertising portrays them

"Research found that 40% of the women surveyed said that they do not identify at all with the women they see in advertising. Women are rarely presented as having authority -- just 3% of ads feature women in managerial, leadership or professional roles -- and are "disproportionately" represented in domestic roles.The ad industry appears to believe that the life of a woman is dour in the extreme, with just 1% of the ads surveyed showing women being funny", said Weed.

The research also found that using a more "progressive" portrayal of women and their roles had better business outcomes, greater "talkability, engagement and brand impact".

To achieve a fairer representation of women in media, Unilever's brand teams will actively tackle three areas:

The role of women in ads beyond the product use More authentic and deeper personalities A non-critical approach to appearance.

How might this play out for brands?

Using Food brand Knorr as an example, instead of just using women exclusively preparing food, Knorr has branched off to include divorced dads, groups of students and millennials. At the same time the Lynx brand is moving away from its traditional "lad-focused" strategy.

Does advertising lead or follow social norms?

"Media is the only business industry when we can literally paint a picture of the world the way we want it to be," said Madeline Di Nonno, chief executive of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media. "Advertising as a storytelling medium is as important as the programming it is attached to. We believe advertising can take a lead position and ignite the advertising and content industries to jump on board and embrace this movement."

What is the ad industry's role here -- leader of change or mirror to the world? Are other advertisers breaking the norm? All feedback, queries, and opinions are welcomed to

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