The industry must join forces to banish gender stereotypes
Banishing gender stereotypes is a business imperative but the entire industry must come together for it to have an impact.
The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in June marked the first meeting of the Unstereotype Alliance, co-convened by UN Women and ourselves at Unilever.
It was a remarkable gathering, with 24 industry-leading advertisers, agencies, tech companies and trade bodies coming together to commit to a shared and global agenda to tackle unhelpful and harmful gender stereotypes in advertising.
Together, the diverse group represents millions of dollars in advertising power, so it’s a group with both the clout and responsibility to change the script on this for good.
It was a strong first step, and seeing the Unstereotype flag flying proudly along the promenade was a powerful symbol. But of course, this first meeting is just the beginning of a lot of hard work to start changing the way we create advertising across the board.
This will only work if every single one of us in the industry thinks about how we tackle stereotypes in every single piece of work we do. And that includes you. So, let me share some of the outcomes of the meeting, so that you too can come on the journey.
1. Develop a code of conduct for advertisers and creative partners
By agreeing and adhering to strong guidelines for delivering unstereotyped content creation, advertisers and agencies can work together with clear and shared understanding to ensure their brands produce only the best, most unsteretoyped marketing campaigns.
These shared guidelines represent an important point about the need for open collaboration here. That might seem obvious, but with so many traditional competitors in the room, this is a real testament to how seriously unusual bedfellows across the industry are taking this issue – and it is the bedrock of a very powerful alliance for change.
Progressive adverts are 25% more effective than those featuring more traditional portrayals of gender.
So as a group we agreed to openly share the good work the Unstereotype Alliance members are already doing to eliminate stereotypes with each other and across the industry, and to build on each other’s good practice as a combined and global force.
READ MORE: Are new ad rules the answer to tackling gender stereotypes?
2. Commit to measurable change by 2020
We have set an aggressive timeline for change, and are shaping clearly defined and transparent goals with annual targets to deliver significant action by 2020. We are looking to develop third-party, globally standardised measurement and we will regularly review progress, linked to our Gender Attitudes study, to show the impact on perceptions in countries. This is all about the alliance collectively holding ourselves to account, not being just a ‘talking shop’.
3. Change culture
In the UK, only 12% of those in creative leadership roles are women, and as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg says: “If you can’t see it, you can’t be it.” So as an alliance we will be promoting gender diversity in creative leadership roles, both to influence the creative process and to inspire others – and we will challenge our agency partners to do the same.
We will also be working to implement diversity and inclusion training in our organisations that particularly tackles the unconscious biases we all hold. Finally, we’ll be proactively challenging ourselves to deliver only the best, most unstereotyped marketing campaigns. The collective impact of this will be colossal.
This isn’t just about doing the right thing for society. Unstereotyping is a business imperative too. Consumers are telling us they want fresh, progressive depictions of men and women, and Unilever’s own research shows us that progressive adverts are 25% more effective than those featuring more traditional portrayals of gender. They also deliver better branded impact.
READ MORE: The representation of women in advertising hasn’t improved in a decade
So, beneath the vital societal reasons for change, there’s a compelling business case no brand can afford to ignore either. Part of our job as members of the alliance will be ensuring that every advertiser understands this business case for eliminating stereotypes in its content.
It takes all of us to banish stereotypes. The power in the Unstereotype Alliance comes from our collective action, a shared goal and the commitment to consistent measurement across our industry. It’s an exciting time and I’m delighted to be co-convening this with UN Women. This is a real stake in the ground for our industry and we know that what we have to do will not be easy – but it’s hugely energising to be part of this, and I look forward to sharing the next chapter with you.
Unstereotype Alliance members include:
ANA, AT&T, Alibaba, Cannes Lions, Diageo, Facebook, Geena Davis Institute, Google, IPG, IPA, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Mattel, Microsoft, P&G, Publicis, Twitter, The Female Quotient, UN Women, Unilever, World Federation of Advertisers and WPP.
On the other hand, there are many like me, who add a permanent boycott to those companies engaging in “progressive ads” for “culture change”, such as Target going public announcing any gender bathrooms. Target has paid a very steep price. As has Macy’s for targeting Trump, and others. Starbucks will undoubtedly never reach their true potential because they picked a political side. Injecting politics into business is not just fascist, it’s also just incredibly stupid.
I’d submit that one can avoid old/tired gender stereotypes without having to go to progressive political portrayals as the answer. The British Marketing obsession with injecting “diversity” wherever possible is a perfect example of a poor strategy “solution” that dilutes sales effectiveness, and crosses into fascist territory as well. Why not just make smart advertising that sells the product? Whatever that creative may be. Guess what? Humor can appeal to all political perspectives and still sell product without going regressive. (Well maybe not today’s snowflake extremes, but they have no money to spend anyway.) I think you get the point.