Gender Equality in Advertising

How Can Marketers Test Gender Equality in Advertising?

In recent years, marketers have become increasingly aware of unconscious bias and inequalities in their advertising creative.  This bias has shown up in a big way against women and girls, with ads casting them in traditional, powerless roles that don’t look anything like who they are today.  It has also shown up in ad creative featuring African American, Hispanic and other multicultural groups that have been too often cast in subservient roles.Ad creative needs to go beyond gender stereotypes. Photo of man and woman racers at starting line.

A tremendous amount of research has now been done by marketing and advertising associations, and by research providers, to shed light on the situation and make recommendations for change.  Several key studies and programs will be profiled below.

Unpacking Gender Bias in Advertising

On June 21, 2017, J. Walter Thompson Worldwide and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media revealed key findings from their research into women’s representation in Advertising at the Cannes Lions. In collaboration with the University of Southern California’s Viterbi School of Engineering, the study analyzed more than 2,000 films through automated analysis from the Cannes Lions archive (English language only).

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media - logo

Men get about four times as much screen time as women. The study, “Unpacking Gender Bias in Advertising,” revealed:Little girl doctor shows women and girls need to shown as characters in smart and successful ways.

  • Men speak seven times more than women
  • There are twice as many male characters in ads as females
  • 25% of ads feature men only
  • Only 5% of ads feature women only
  • 18% of ads feature only male voices, while less than 3% feature female voices only

The article shared additional research conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media such as age, location, objectification and other features associated with prominent characters such as:

  •  Women in ads are mostly in their 20s while men are in their 20s, 30s and 40s
  • 1 in 10 female characters are shown in sexually revealing clothing
  • Men are 62% more likely to be shown as smart
  • Women are much more likely to be shown in the kitchen while men are shown at sporting events
  • 1 in 3 men are shown with an occupation compared to 1 in 4 women

Gender Equality Measurement Study – ANA, AFE, #SeeHer and ABX

Beautiful Black Girl illustrates how we want to see females and ethnic groups represented in ads.Logos of four organizations behind new Gender Equality efforts - #SeeHer, ANA, AFE and Advertising Benchmark Index

In recognition of the growing concern for how women and girls were portrayed in the media, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the Alliance for Family Entertainment (AFE) created the #SeeHer program.  The program launched in June of 2016 after the White House identified unconscious gender bias as a leading issue.  #SeeHer was established to improve the accurate portrayal of women and girls in media by 20% by 2020, the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote in the U.S. 

ABX developed a methodology to measure gender bias and a set of norms which enable the ANA/AFE to benchmark progress toward the 2020 goal.  The resulting Gender Equality Measure™ (GEM™) is now the global standard for measurement of unconscious gender bias. The four key variables were shared with the US advertising research community at the 2017 Advertising Research Foundation (ARF) Conference.  The ABX data developed for the GEM™ is also available directly here

Improving gender portrayal is not only a positive social objective, but it is also a profitable business strategy.  ABX was able to combine gender data with advertising effectiveness data to show the correlation between positive gender scores and positive brand reputation and higher call to action, including purchase intent.  As a result, the ANA, AFE, #SeeHer and ABX were honored by ESOMAR, the world’s premiere market research association, as the 2017 ESOMAR Research Effectiveness Award Winners.

Exhibit 1: Correlation between Gender Ad Scores, Brand Reputation, and Call-to-Action performance

 Research behind new Gender Equality Measure won the prestigious ESOMAR Award for Research Effectiveness.

Work is now being done to expand this study to Multicultural groups to make sure people of all ethnicities are respectfully represented.  ABX also worked with the #SeeHer team to apply these measures to the evaluation of TV content.  Over 675 TV shows have been evaluated for their portrayal of women and girls with data being updated twice a year.

New research released by ANA’s #SeeHer movement, in collaboration with TiVo, demonstrates that ads that portray women accurately work even better when paired with programming that also portrays women accurately. Using GEM™ scores across select consumer packaged goods advertising and the programs they aired within, the research showed that ads with a high GEM™ score generated double-digit incremental sales per-rating-point post ad exposure, when they’re aired on shows that also have a high GEM™ score. 

Unstereotyping our Ads

Unstereotype Alliance depicts older woman with a forklift as example of gender equality.In an American Marketing Association article, Unilever Commits to Realistic Gender Depiction in Ads,” Zach Brooke reported on a landmark Unilever primary and secondary research initiative that would shake the advertising industry. The initiative (five in total) ran in more than 25 markets over the past two years to learn how female identity is evolving and how advertising is portraying women and gender overall. The goal of this research was to build the case for changing female and overall gender portrayals in Unilever's advertising. 

After reviewing more than 1,000 ads it was found that 50% have elements which portray women in a stereotypical way.

And, the numbers weren’t much better for men. Time to make a change. Unilever’s study also found 40% of women don’t relate to the women they see in advertising; a huge opportunity to improve brand relationships with key customers. 

Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing & Communications Manager, created a three-part approach to shifting Unilever advertising based on the role, personality and appearance of people in the ads: 

  1. Portray people in roles that relate to their aspirations and broader achievements rather than just their responsibilities;
  2. Show characters with personalities that feel authentic, distinctive and characterful; and
  3. Represent diverse appearances and beauty in a way that is enjoyable, non-critical and a positive source of self-expression. Logo of Unstereotype Alliance

Unilever has seen a 24% increase in progressive consumer assessments of Unilever ads.  Unstereotyping our ads: Why it’s important and where we are, 6/16/2016For more about the Unstereotype Alliance, click here.  

For More Reading:

Additional Resource Pages:

  1.  Advertising Effectiveness Measurement
  2. Integrated Marketing Across All Media Types
  3. Competitive Intelligence in Advertising
  4. Creative Testing for ROAS, ROI and Predictive Analytics
  5. Gender Equality in Advertising

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