Mars’s three-point strategy to improve gender equality in its advertising

The FMCG giant wants to “unprogramme” the way marketers and agency partners think to address the gender bias in its advertising, after research revealed men outnumber women three to two.

MarsMars has outlined a three-part strategy to help improve gender equality in its advertising as it looks to “positively influence” society and “shape culture in a different way”.

It comes as the FMCG giant’s research into gender bias in its own advertising finds men feature in its ads at a ratio of three to two when compared with women, with 22% of male characters shown as leaders versus 17% of female characters. Meanwhile, men are nearly twice as likely to be shown working than women, with 26% of male characters depicted with an occupation compared to just 11% of female characters.

“We are inadvertently portraying women in situations that are not representative of what society is today and even less our vision of what society should be,” says Mars Wrigley’s chief growth officer Berta de Pablos, talking to Marketing Week at Cannes Lions 2019.

The research, which was commissioned by Mars and conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media using its proprietary machine learning tool, analysed more than 200 global TV ads from Mars across its confectionery, pet care and food brands.

More than 300 prominent characters were further analysed and while Mars performs better than the industry baseline – the institute carried out analysis of Cannes-winning campaigns from 2006 to 2016 – it shows there is still much work to be done.

De Pablos says while Mars is “pleasantly surprised” it performed ahead of the industry standard, she was shocked to see the context in which women are portrayed, namely the fact women are rarely seen in positions of power or authority.

In order to remedy that, Mars has pledged to do three things. Firstly it is committing to publishing and publicising all its results “because if you really want to drive change you have to be transparent and vulnerable”, de Pablos says.

Secondly, it will be working with the marketing community and its agencies to instil new ways of working. “Leading the change means we have to train all our partners and all our associates [marketers internally] that work on content creation and what it means to not be stereotypical,” she explains. “It’s about sensitising and unprogramming them, because people think this way without even noticing. We have to make people aware.”

Lastly, she said “you only get what you inspect, not what you expect”, so Mars will be measuring and continuing to track the progress of the changes it makes.

Leading the agenda

As one of the world’s biggest advertisers, de Pablos believes it is critical that Mars leads on this agenda, both from an external point of view given the influence it has as an advertiser, but also for internal purposes.

“We produce a lot of advertising – we have been the most award-winning advertiser two years in a row, so what we do is visible and has impact. With that privilege comes a sense of responsibility in terms of the content we are putting out. It can and does influence society and shape culture in a different way,” she said.

Mars also has to ensure what it does externally matches what it does internally. It has been championing gender equality within the company, both at a corporate level and within its farming communities.

“We are doing a lot of things for the company behind the camera so what we do in front of the camera has to be as consistent,” she added. “It’s important for consumers but it’s also important for the company.”

Earlier this week, Unilever revealed it had asked 63 of its top marketers to take geographical DNA tests to help challenge stereotypes and disrupt the way that marketers and agency partners think about diversity.

Meanwhile, the advertising watchdog’s new rules around gender stereotypes came into force on Friday (14 June). The new ruling prohibits marketers from portraying ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes in advertising.

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