‘Female-focused advertising must evolve or it will get stale’ urges Google’s UK marketing chief

Although full of praise for the impact of campaigns such as This Girl Can, Google UK’s head of ads marketing Nishma Robb believes female-focused marketing must now evolve or risk being seen as formulaic.

Marketers need to work harder to normalise the portrayal of strong women in their advertising, according to Google UK’s head of ads marketing Nishma Robb.

Speaking today (16 September) at the Dots 2016 event in Brighton organised by agency Brilliant Noise, Robb praised the impact of advertising such as Sport England’s This Girl Can. However, she suggested the mission statement-style of messaging to promote gender equality could lose its impact.

“Things [such as This Girl Can], although massively impactful and fantastic, are at risk of becoming formulaic. Female-focused advertising might create fatigue if it keeps telling the same message, so it has to evolve,” urged Robb.

Robb, who is the chapter lead for the UK segment of ‘Women at Google’ within the tech giant, believes this message can evolve by brands working harder to place strong women in everyday advertising narratives. To this end, she gave the example of brands using a firewomen instead of a fireman or a female surgeon instead of a male surgeon.

“I have twins, a boy and a girl, and even though they have the same toys, they have already categorised them by gender roles,” she added.

“Female-focused advertising might create fatigue if it keeps telling the same message, so it has to evolve.”

Nishma Robb, head of ads marketing, Google UK

“Gender stereotypes are most defined when people are between five- to seven-years-old, so we need to ensure kids are seeing strong women in advertising all the time and not just as a one off statement.

“There is still not enough being done by advertisers or the industry at large. Marketing needs its own Bechdel test [which rates films based on whether at least two female characters talk to each other about something other than men].”

Citing Google research, Robb said 52% of female consumers would buy a product based on the positive way its advertising portays women. She also urged marketers to empower women in their advertising beyond 30-second TV ads. “On the YouTube side, we see that long-form ads are among the fastest growing,” she added.

Robb’s comments follow new research from Haygarth and Flamingo London, which claimed 95% of British families feel marketers need more balance in their portrayal of the family unit.

Having polled 1,000 British parents, 72% agreed there were no longer fixed gender roles in the modern family household and that advertising must pay greater respect for individual needs over traditional stereotypes.


Tanya Joseph

Marketer of the year Tanya Joseph on the future of ‘This Girl Can’ and Sport England’s strategy for 2016

Mindi Chahal

The UK’s marketing success story of 2015 was Sport England’s ‘This Girl Can’ campaign, which aims to make women of all ages and abilities more active. It won numerous awards at Cannes Lions 2015, including the much-trumpeted inaugural Glass Lion, celebrating advertising that promotes gender equality. The campaign, created with agency FCB Inferno, persuaded 1.6 […]


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  1. Shalini Vohra 8 Mar 2017

    Why equality in advertising is a shame: Isn’t it a shame to see a woman pilot flying an airplane in an ad, a shame to see the dad bathing the baby in the bath, a shame to see a campaign built around same sex marriage. A shame because this is still the exception and not the norm. It gets our attention because its still unexpected. Isn’t it a shame that our society hasn’t yet moved past gender defined roles? And these roles are defined early on in life. When my little boy picks a pink toy in the shop, why is still the exception for me to let him do that? Why am I hard pressed to find a pink jacket in the boys section? Why are these decisions being made for us and is why is someone else deciding for us not the exception?

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