RAF challenges sexist stereotypes with provocative ad juxtaposing clichéd ad slogans with front line combat

The RAF, which won Channel 4’s annual £1m Diversity in Advertising award, mocks the gender stereotypes that all too frequently appear in mainstream advertising after new research found 40% of the most watched ads feature women in cliched roles.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) is launching a thought-provoking campaign, ‘Women should be defined by actions, not clichés’, challenging sexist stereotypes and the clichéd portrayal of women in advertising.

Developed by RAF’s creative agency Engine, the campaign mocks the gender stereotypes that frequently appear in mainstream advertising, juxtaposing them with the RAF’s own talent serving in front line roles.

Those stereotypes include phrases such as: “Fine lines and wrinkles? I want to combat the signs of ageing”; “Strong healthy heart, what’s my secret?”; “With my busy life I don’t have time to slow down”; “I can’t believe we turned up wearing the same thing”; “I want a lip gloss that stays on whatever life throws at me”; “All day protection now with wings so I can handle anything”.

The RAF’s campaign is the third winner of Channel 4’s annual Diversity in Advertising Award, which last year invited brands and agencies to pitch campaigns that would challenge ingrained stereotypes and the objectification and sexualisation of women. It beat shortlisted campaigns from Cadbury Milk Tray, eBay and Flybe to take the award.

The RAF wins £1m of airtime on Channel 4, while the other three finalists are offered match-funded commercial airtime of up to £250,000 if they launch their ads. Since the scheme began in 2016, only one brand that has been shortlisted but not won, Ford, has gone on to run its ads.

“The Royal Air Force has been delighted to have worked on this venture with Channel 4 and Engine, allowing us to showcase the vast range of exciting opportunities available, regardless of gender,” says air vice-marshal Chris Elliot, chief of staff personnel and air secretary at the RAF.

“As an inclusive employer, the Royal Air Force continues to support each and every one of our personnel, noting that they are as unique as the roles they fill. Through teamwork we move forward in breaking down stereotypical barriers and hope to encourage others to do so through this campaign.”

The campaign comes after a new survey by Channel 4 found that the main problem with ads featuring women was not the levels of representation but the roles in which women are portrayed. Early findings show that in the 1,000 most watched TV ads over a four week period, more than 40% showed women in clichéd “homemaker” or “house wife” roles.

“This RAF advert clearly illustrates the difference between how women are portrayed in advertising, compared to the realities of everyday life for a woman serving in the RAF,” says Matt Salmon, Channel 4’s head of agency and client sales.

“It is a worthy recipient of £1m of our airtime and given our research shows that women are typically shoehorned into derogatory or stereotypical roles, campaigns such as this are long overdue. We hope that other brands now follow the RAF’s lead in considering how women are portrayed within advertising.”

Channel 4 has committed to running the award until at least 2020, with the next iteration opening for entries in June 2019.

In 2016, the competition focused on improving the representation of disability and was won by Mars and AMV for their Maltesers campaign, while in 2017 the focus was on non-visible disabilities and was won by Lloyds Bank’s #GetTheInsideOut campaign on mental health.