Channel 4, Sky and Tesco are among 28 brands committing to challenge harmful stereotypes and gender inequality in UK advertising.
Launching today, the UK chapter of the Unstereotype Alliance – a movement first convened by UN Women in 2017 – is aiming to secure commitments from more than 100 brands to address the representation of marginalised groups, initially focusing on the experiences of women of colour.
The UK members, which also include the likes of Facebook, Sainsbury’s and Mars, have signed up to two strategic priorities. The first is to adopt an intersectional approach to tackle deeply ingrained inequalities in the UK, with a specific focus on women of colour. The second is to address stereotypes across all brand communication and content including digital, social media and ecommerce.
Kantar has assisted with the creation of advertising and tracking testing, which will identify and single out any stereotypes being used in campaigns.
The launch comes as the Covid-19 pandemic highlights the ongoing gender inequalities being faced by women in the UK.
Research carried out by Ebiquity and Channel 4/YouGov reveals a severe lack of diverse representation in UK advertising, with just 4% of ads showing women in leadership or professional roles. Only 3% of ads were found to show women as intelligent and just 1% depicted them as funny, while only 3% of TV ads featured people from the LGBT+ community and 2% featured people with disabilities.
Advertising Association president and former Unilever chief marketing and communications officer, Keith Weed, has helped set up the Unstereotype Alliance’s UK branch. He is keen for the alliance to act as a platform for the advertising industry to foreground various issues around diversity and inequality that have been thrown under a harsh spotlight during lockdown.
We need to represent the world as it is right now, rather than how it used to be in the 1950s.
Keith Weed, Advertising Association
Weed is encouraged by the positive reaction to the alliance and the commitments made by the core group of 28 brands not just in terms of signing up to a purpose, but the financial contribution made to the cause. However, he’s aware there’s still plenty to be done.
“When I was CMO at Unilever we did some work on this and found that the ads that weren’t using stereotypical shorthand actually performed better,” Weed explains.
“If you can’t see it you can’t be it and we need to represent the world as it is right now, as well as how it will be in the future, rather than how it used to be in the 1950s.”
Various industry initiatives are already in place, notably the AA’s ‘UK Advertising Needs You’, a showcase for various diversity and inclusion programmes.
However, Weed believes that the timing of the chapter’s launch is perfect amid a renewed social consciousness, prompted in part by the pandemic and movements like Black Lives Matter magnifying gender issues.
“We will be judged by the consumers we serve,” says Weed. “People are really aware of the positive impact that this industry can make. I want brands to think about how they can contribute to society.”
It’s hoped that the Unstereotype Alliance can push on and encourage brands to make good on all their talk of purpose, taking a multi-stakeholder approach that’s as much about the wider community and government as it is about consumers and shareholders.
Weed is confident that the alliance is a much-needed step in the right direction. “Putting a spotlight on something and saying we’re going to address it will bring us all together,” he says.
“Watch this space, because we will start to see progress soon.”