Majority of marketers using more diverse imagery as ASA readies gender stereotypes crackdown

Sport England's 'This Girl Can' campaign, which has been widely praised for rubbishing stereotypes, returned this year

57% of UK marketers have admitted that the Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA) plan to clampdown on gender stereotyping in ads has impacted the imagery they use in their own campaigns.

According to a survey from photography platform Shutterstock, over half of marketers claim to have already been impacted by the fresh ASA guidelines which are due to come into force in early 2018.

While the advice has yet to be finalised, 51% of the 500 UK respondents questioned agreed it was important to represent modern day society when choosing marketing imagery. This showed progress on 2016 when the figure sat at just 30%.

Shutterstock's findings come amid a push from Disney to better represent dads in its own marketing, ditching stereotypes in which dads are shown playing the joker or being absent from family life in order to better unlock the market's potential.

Problematic stereotypes

Interestingly, marketers aged 45-years-old and over are named as the least likely to have used a high number of images featuring diversity over the past 12 months, when compared to their younger counterparts.

The older demographic was also found to be less inclined to use more images feature same-sex couples, with just 17% having done so in 2017 against 43% of 25 to 34-year-olds.

Earlier this year, the ASA revealed that following consultations with advertisers and consumers that it was poised to take a "tougher line" on ads that feature stereotypical gender roles or characteristics which could potentially cause harm.

This doesn't mean that there will be a blanket ban on all gender stereotypes, so for instance brands can still show a man doing DIY or a woman cleaning, but the regulator has said that depictions which are "problematic" will come under scrutiny.

For the ASA, examples include an ad which depicts family members creating a mess while a woman has sole responsibility for cleaning it up, or a spot that features a man trying and failing to undertake simple parental or household tasks.

Over a third (35%) of the 500 UK marketers questioned as part of the most recent study said they had used more images featuring women in the past year.

Championing representation

The research was part of a wider global survey which found that while Australian marketers are leading the way in using increasing numbers of images featuring women, UK marketers are succeeding in using more images of same-sex couples.

35% of British marketers featured more images of same sex couples in the past 12 months compared to 21% of Australian marketers, where same-sex marriage has only just been legalised.

For marketers in the UK, the US and Australia, the primary aim of using images of same-sex couples and photos featuring racial diversity was to represent modern day society, rather than to fit in with brand messaging.

Over the past few years, there several UK initiatives have launched to ensure that the media and marketing industry's strong visual impact on public life is inclusive.

These include Christmas So White and Easter So White which look to normalise diverse imagery through real life photography. The industry figureheads behind the projects recently teamed up with Getty to make available a series of royalty free images for brands to use in their own ads.

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Rebecca Stewart

Rebecca Stewart is a reporter at The Drum. Based in London, she writes news, analysis and features around brand marketing and digital innovation. She has interviewed key figures from the likes of Airbnb, Amnesty International, Unilever, Facebook and Spotify, as well as covering international events like Ad Week Europe, Dmexco and Ciclope.

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