Gender equality movements in advertising are making gains

A panel at Women in the World in New York discussed gender equality in advertising.

For its Spring 2016 campaign, high-end shoe company Stuart Weitzman used three naked supermodels in an effort that looks very much like an advertisement from a bygone era.

“It’s three of the most powerful supermodels in the world reduced to three objects wearing shoes,” said Madonna Badger, chief creative officer at ad agency Badger & Winters, at the Women in the World event in New York on April 6. “I can’t stress enough the power we have as women to make economic choices…we control over 75% of [spend for] all household products. We have that power and we have to use it.”

And while it is perhaps dangerous to predict the future, industry-wide movements and campaigns from the world’s largest advertiser are doing just that – tackling gender inequality in new ways. What’s more, panelists at the event from Tina Brown Live Media said genuine change is possible because in part millennials won’t let this cause die out.

#WomenNotObjects

Circa 2015, Badger said she was asked by a $10bn global company to do an empowering ad for women and her agency came up with the idea to focus on the wage gap and red lipstick, which theoretically makes everyone feel better about themselves.

“We did a listening lab and asked…30 young women, ‘Do you like red lipstick?’ and they said they love it, it makes [them] feel empowered and like [they] can take on the day…and we asked, ‘Would you wear red lipstick to ask for a raise?’ and the answer was, ‘No, I would never want to push my femininity into someone’s face’ and that’s when we dug deep,” Badger said. “If we make 77 cents on dollar, why not use everything in our arsenal that makes us feel good?”

That’s when Badger said she Googled “objectification of women” and realized the results were almost exclusively ads.

“That’s when we decided to do something,” she said.

And that, in turn, is when the #WomenNotObjects movement was born.

And it’s gaining steam. With more than 2.2m views on YouTube alone, Badger said she spoke about #WomenNotObjects at Cannes Lions in 2016 in part to encourage the international industry to join in – even going as far as creating a petition after she was met with some pushback. As a result, the jury packet at Cannes Lions 2017 will include a piece about objectification, she said.

Gender Equality Measure

The industry as a whole certainly has more tools to deal with objectification now. For example, in March, the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) Alliance for Family Entertainment launched its Gender Equality Measure (GEM) module, which it says will help identify and eliminate gender bias in media and programming.

According to a press release, that’s in part because research shows ads and entertainment in which women and girls are accurately portrayed generate significantly more awareness, recall and purchase intent than ads in which they are not.

GEM measures the perceptions of how female actors are portrayed in the media by asking:

  • What is the overall opinion of the female presented?
  • Is she portrayed respectfully?
  • Is she depicted inappropriately?
  • Is she seen as a positive role model for women and girls?

In turn, the module helps marketers improve planning choices and ROI, the release said. And, per the ANA, since the summer of 2016, GEM has been used to evaluate over 17,000 ads.

“Data is our friend,” said Fiona Carter, chief brand officer at telecommunications company AT&T. “We wanted to be on the offense and prove the business impact of the positive portrayal of women and girls.”

In addition, she said the ANA is encouraging research companies to use the module to test even more ads.

#SeeHer

The GEM module is an extension of the #SeeHer initiative that the ANA launched in June 2016. Similarly, this broader campaign seeks to address what it called “an unconscious bias [that] persists against women and girls in advertising, media and programming”.

In addition to the hashtag, the campaign includes: encouraging brands to review ads and the ad development process; toolkits for marketers, agencies and content creators with a scorecard for creating content; and a website where consumers can see the best ads and content that reflect the initiative’s message.

And, as noted, gender equality makes for good business. In fact, according to research from the ANA AFE, women make or influence 93% of food purchases and 85% of consumer purchases.

"We know that the right advertising environment for women can improve ad effectiveness by as much as 30[%],” said Bob Liodice, chief executive of the ANA, in a statement. “So there is a business imperative to truthfully and accurately portray women and girls…our role is to help brands come together to deliver the #SeeHer message and begin the process of transformative change in the marketing ecosystem.”

Per Marc Pritchard, chief brand officer at CPG corporation Procter & Gamble – and who said he grew up with five aunts and now has three daughters and only female pets – P&G reaches 5 billion people on the planet every day and, as the world’s largest advertiser, it can be a force for good, including on issues like gender equality.

“#SeeHer is recognizing businesses can make a difference,” Pritchard said. “With advertising, we can make gender equality normal. It’s all about your cognitive processing. We’re focused on a mission to make sure advertising accurately reflects women and girls.”

And P&G is actually putting its money where its mouth is.

Case in point: rapper, producer, actor and panelist Queen Latifah said P&G makeup brand CoverGirl is “a brand we all grew up with, but I never saw [a CoverGirl] who looked like me.”

As a result, becoming a CoverGirl in 2001 meant “in my neighborhood, [they] could relate to that and feel more included in this brand.”

From there, Latifah said she was able to create the Queen Collection – a line of makeup designed for deep skin tones. And this means women of color have a much broader range of options that match their skin tones, she added.

#LikeAGirl and #WeSeeEqual

More recently, P&G was the brand behind #LikeAGirl, which turned into something of a phenomenon, driving more than 63m views on YouTube alone – and, Pritchard said, starting to change the perception of the term “like a girl” into a positive.

But even more recently than that, P&G kicked off #WeSeeEqual for International Women’s Day.

In it, the brand says it seeks to create a better world through gender equality and it is leveraging insights to uncover gender bias and take action to spark conversations and set new expectations that motivate change. The brand said #WeSeeEqual will focus on leveraging its voice in media and advertising, helping to remove gender-based barriers to education for girls and economic opportunities for women and removing obstacles to equal representation of women at all levels of its company.

“We wanted to go beyond objectification and stereotypes and raise the bar to an even higher level,” Pritchard said of the effort. “We believe in equal representation, roles and job duties. All boats rise when you use 100% of the creativity.”

And, per Carter, this is likely a new trend as research shows 70% of men and women are worried their children are watching negative gender stereotypes in advertising.

“I think it goes to the parents in the world who want their kids to live their best lives [and be their best] selves,” she said. “Millennials will accelerate it. They have a voice and are not afraid to use it. They will challenge the hierarchy and patriarchy.”

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