The representation of women in advertising hasn’t improved in a decade

A new report released at the Cannes Lions festival highlights how men get four times as much screen time as women and are more likely to be shown as leaders.

Men get four times as much screen time as women and are spoken about seven times more than women in advertising, according to a new report by The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media and J.Walter Thompson (JWT).

The research which has been released today (21 June) examines 2,000 films from the Cannes Lions archive and 10 years of Cannes Lions Film and Film Craft winners and shortlists. It uses automation to analyse gender representation in advertising, with the aim of raising awareness of explicit and implicit gender bias in advertising.

The research found there are twice as many male characters in ads as female characters and 25% of ads feature men only, in comparison to just 5% featuring women only. Similarly, 18% of ads feature male voices, while less than 3% of ads feature female voices only.

When it comes to creating our ‘regular’ ads for our ‘regular’ clients, we forget about women

Brent Choi, J.Walter Thompson

Overall, men are present on screen more than women across all ad categories and there has been no improvement in the last decade. The percentage of women in ads in 2006 was 33.9% and that has risen only slightly to 36.9% in 2016, while men have only slightly moved from representing 66.1% of characters in 2006 to 63.1% in 2016.

The research also found men are more likely to be shown as leaders, speaking about power 29% and achievement 28% more than women.

“What this research shows is that our industry has tent-pole moments, amazing actions or campaigns when we all rally around women, but when it comes to creating our ‘regular’ ads for our ‘regular’ clients, we forget about them,” Brent Choi, chief creative officer at J.Walter Thompson New York, tells Marketing Week.

The diversity of the types of women represented in ads is also problematic. Women in ads are mostly in their 20s compared to men who are aged between their 20s and 40s. And one in 10 female characters are shown in sexually revealing clothing, six times the number of male characters.

Men are 62% more likely to be portrayed as intelligent and one in three men are shown with an occupation compared to one in four women. Instead, women are 48% more likely to be shown in the kitchen, while men are 50% more likely to be found at a sporting event.

Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Genna Davis Institue on Gender in Media, says that not enough is being done to portray more women and that marketers need to be more progressive and inclusive in their representation of women.

“By changing the narrative, the images we use, the stories we tell about women, we can dramatically change the way the world values women and how women and girls see themselves,” Davis explained.

The release of the report follows Unilever confirming it is launching the new global Unstereotype Alliance at Cannes lions, with the aim of banishing stereotypical portrayals of gender in all major advertising, including women being presented as the cooks in family adverts. It will meet for the first time on Thursday (22 June).

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