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Last edited: August 12, 2020

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Advertising uses images and audio for the express purpose of marketing ideas, services and things for people to consume.  Images can be as or more powerful than words in conveying messages about the roles and perceptions of men and women in society. Research related to gender equality in advertising reveals that women are underrepresented (especially when considering that they dominate purchasing); have less screen time; less speaking time; and far less words spoken associated with power and achievement (Geena Davis Institute 2017).  Advertising can have a powerful impact on the mindsets of girls and boys and girls, women and men.  Advertising continues, in many instances, to reinforce negative gender – stereotypes including objectification of women’s bodies used in the sale of various commodities. Advertising images and messaging affect the perceptions that women and girls have of their bodies and images affecting ideas of self-worth and self-esteem.  Men and boys can be similarly affected by feeling that they must live up to and adhere to the macho depictions that are presented in advertising. 

Research has demonstrated that when women and girls do not feel good about the way they look that they are very likely to opt out of important life activities; stop themselves from eating or otherwise put their health at risk; have not been assertive in their opinion or stuck to their decision; feel under pressure to never make mistakes or show weakness; and believe media and advertising set an unrealistic standard of beauty most women can’t ever achieve and should do a better job of portraying women of diverse physical attractiveness (Unilever 2016).

The Association of National Advertisers #SeeHer (USA)

The Association of National Advertisers (ANA) launched the #SeeHer movement in 2016 to improve the accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and media by 20 percent by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S. To track success, it created GEM™, a data-driven methodology that identifies unconscious gender bias. GEM™ provides measurement standards for ads/TV programming. The methodology was made open source for the marketing, media, and entertainment industries, and is used by marketers, researchers, agencies, and content creators throughout the advertising and media communities. Increasingly, GEM™ is being integrated into advertisers' media strategy, implementation, and review criteria.

Since launch, almost 60,000 ads have been tested by ABX, ANA’s syndicated research partner for GEM™. To ensure the best context for ads, twice a year GEM™ scores are captured for Nielsen’s top programs and member-selected broadcast and cable shows.

- Ads with positive GEM™ scores drive purchase intent by 26 percent among all consumers; 45 percent among women.

- Ads with positive GEM™ scores increase brand reputation by 11 percent.

- Ads that portray women accurately work better when paired with programming that also portrays women and girls realistically.

To learn more about the initiative, see: https://seeher.com/

 

The nature of the advertising industry might make it challenging to approach, however, more recently, the industry itself is demonstrating increased interest and commitment to addressing negative gender stereotypes and inequality through large-scale campaigns and initiatives.  Research conducted across 33 different categories (e.g. cosmetics, insurance, social causes), found that men continue to dominate visual and audio spots and that this discrepancy had hardly changed over a 10-year period (Geena Davis Institute, 2017). The same research also found that dialogue spoken by men was 29% and 28% more likely to be associated with words related to power and achievement. Unilever conducted a year-long audit of the advertising industry, documenting that 40% of women did not relate to the way women were portrayed in ads. Men too were portrayed in very basic and stereotypical ways (i.e. tough, rugged, heterosexual, homophobic and aggressive) (Unilever, 2016). On the contrary, the research showed that progressive ads are a quarter more effective and delivered better brand impact (UNILEVER, 2016). 

Broad recommendations for eliminating stereotypes from ads, include (World Federation of Advertisers, 2018):

  • Encourage diversity in teams that are producing the ads.
  • Identify where the brand can make a real difference in its supply chain, with consumers and workers to identify structural challenges that inhibit the brand from embracing and celebrating diversity.
  • Go beyond gender-sensitive marketing and address other aspects of diversity (e.g. race, national origin, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation, etc.) and ensure these measures run through the whole value chain, including suppliers.
  • Avoid one-off or short-term initiatives (e.g. femvertising campaigns) and invest in long-term commitments that demonstrate real change.
  • Track performance over time.

Advertising guidance on depicting gender stereotypes likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence (CAP and BCAP, UK)

Two Committees in the UK covering non-broadcast advertising and direct and promotional marketing and broadcast advertising put forward guidance on the interpretation of the UK codes related to the same. The guidance was developed to support advertisers, agencies and media owners on how to interpret the codes. The guidance covers topics, including:

- Scenarios featuring gender-stereotypical roles and characteristics

- Scenarios featuring pressure to conform to an idealised gender-stereotypical body shape or - physical features

- Scenarios aimed at or featuring children

- Scenarios aimed at or featuring potentially vulnerable groups

- Scenarios featuring people who don’t conform to a gender stereotype

See the guide: https://www.asa.org.uk/uploads/assets/uploaded/f39a881f-d8c9-4534-95f180d1bfe7b953.pdf

Unstereotype Alliance

The Unstereotype Alliance convened by UN Women with a powerful global coalition of more than 30 industry leaders behind the common goal of eliminating gender bias and harmful gender stereotypes from their advertising is developing new standards and tools to advance the agenda and measure changes.

The Alliance has progressed toward its objective to develop tools to measure progress towards ending stereotypes in advertising. It has agreed to adopt a proven methodology developed by UN Women and the UN Global Compact, the Gender Gap Analysis Tool, to assess business practices.  Building on tools like GEMTM, a widely used methodology in the United States, the Unstereotype Alliance aims to embrace a global advertising measurement tool which will help brands tackle stereotypes and track progress across developed and emerging markets.

To learn more, see: http://www.unstereotypealliance.org/en

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