Unilever pushes for more ‘progressive’ portrayals of people in advertising

The FMCG giant is adopting a more local approach for its ‘Unstereotype’ initiative in a move that aims to encourage advertisers to depict people in roles that are modern or forward-looking, rather than simply eliminating stereotypes.

gender stereotype

Unilever is urging the marketing industry to show more “progressive” portrayals of people in ads after finding that while strides have been made to eliminate harmful and regressive stereotypes the industry is failing to show people in forward-looking roles.

The call comes as Unilever looks to “supercharge” its Unstereotype initiative, which it launched in 2016 with the aim of eradicating stereotypes in advertising. Aline Santos, executive vice-president of global marketing and global head of diversity and inclusion at Unilever, believes the industry needs to “work harder” to be more representative.

“Our industry has worked hard to remove harmful stereotypes and must continue to do so. But this agenda is about more than removing harmful stereotypes. We must work harder to be more representative and inclusive in our portrayals of all people, considering not only gender, but other dimensions such as race, class, language, sexuality,” she explains.

Building on work so far, Unilever now wants to investigate further how stereotypes differ in various parts of the world. That work starts in Asia, where analysis of advertising across China, India and Indonesia conducted by Ebiquity found that only 13% of ads feature women and 18% feature men in roles that could be seen as progressive.

For example, just 2% showed women in aspirational or leadership positions, while only 9% showed men doing childcare or domestic work and 3% portrayed them as caring fathers. The study also found that among the ads, which aired between 1 January and 31 July this year, only 3% show women and 2% show men over the age of 40, just 4% portrayed women and 1% men as anything other than slim or traditionally good-looking, and there was no depiction of different sexual orientations or disability.

“No two countries are the same and the discussion around stereotypes can often paint whole groups as one entity. By taking a stronger local action, global impact approach to #Unstereotype, we’ll be able to learn more and act faster to authentically reflect the diversity of the world we live in,” adds Santos.

Unilever is hoping it can convince members of its Unstereotype Alliance, which includes WPP, Facebook, Google, Mars and Johnson & Johnson, as well as the rest of the marketing industry to deploy techniques such as “de-averaging” to better represent groups.

READ MORE: Unilever teams up with UN Women, Mars and Alibaba to wipe out gender stereotypes

For its part, Unilever will be bringing together its top six creative agencies in Asia to determine what needs to be done on a local level to tackle diversity and inclusion. It will also embark on an academic partnership to identify the most widely used visual codes and language and how they perpetuate common stereotypes.

Santos adds: “We know that progressive advertising is 25% more impactful with consumers, drives purchase intent by 18% and improves credibility by 21%. People are telling us that these types of adverts are 16% more relevant and 25% more enjoyable. Brands that don’t act fast enough are at risk of losing their customers to the brands that do.”

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  • Kim Walker 26 Sep 2018 at 8:22 am

    Surely the application of stereotypes also applies to age? This seems to have been omitted from the list of “portrayals of all people, considering not only gender, but other dimensions such as race, class, language, sexuality”.

    • Chris Arnold 1 Oct 2018 at 11:52 pm

      Totally agree with Kim, age is something brands run away from yet people over 50 hold most of the wealth, while most Millennials are broke. When they do tackle age it’s always very stereotyped. A look through a few current ads makes you wonder what planet some agencies and brands are on – planet Earth certainly not. Some alternative reality maybe? What we really need is a reality check.

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