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Spikes Asia Stereotypes Stereotyping

Unilever calls out 'lazy' brand and agency marketers for creating stereotypical ads


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

September 28, 2018 | 5 min read

The world’s largest FMCG company has made a commitment to fight stereotypical representation in every industry, and is leading from the front with its ‘Unstereotype’ campaign.

“The ‘Unstereotype’ campaign is applicable to everything we do in life, from politics, to education, music and advertising. For Unilever, we wanted to do something that is close to home like our advertising and our workforce, and everything that impacts our core business,” Aline Santos, global executive vice president of marketing, and head of diversity and inclusion at Unilever tells The Drum at Spikes Asia.

“The potential of "Unstereotype" can go beyond what Unilever touches. I would love to see more women represented in politics and education, different nationalities as professors, and the list goes on.”

Unilever took on the music industry at Cannes Lions in June when it called for TV, music and movie creators and distributors to eliminate outdated stereotypes. Now, it is urging the marketing industry in Asia Pacific to push for more progressive portrayals of people and depict them in roles that are modern or forward-looking.

Explaining Unilever’s latest mission during her keynote at Spikes, Santos told the audience it was a huge concern for the company that only 1% of ads in APAC showed women as intelligent, only 3% showed women over the age of 40, not a single spot showed anyone with a disability, only 3% showed men as fathers and 0% of ads showed a man cooking.

One word that she continually emphasized during her presentation was ‘laziness’, which she asserted marketers from brands and agencies were guilty of when they put out stereotypical ads.

“I don't think it is because of a lack of understanding, creativity or brilliancy. People are amazingly intelligent in this industry. We have the best minds working in this industry,” she says, when asked by The Drum to elaborate on the word.

“The only excuse why we are repeating ourselves over and over again about diversity and inclusion is laziness. Creative people can sometimes be lazy, as well as marketers, that is why we need to call attention to this laziness and how important it is to fight this laziness and rebel against it.”

She explains that when Unilever started this journey, it was really perplexed why 40% of consumers are not recognising themselves in advertising. It then started to analyze advertising and concluded that the state of advertising now is the same as it was 50 years ago.

“We have been repeating ourselves for the last 50 years and that is not right. There is something we need to do differently,” explains Santos. “Zero representation of men cooking and a lot of men in Asia love to cook.”

“Why are we not representing them? Fathers, only 3% of ads in Asia are showing men as fathers and there are billions of fathers in Asia. Women are super leaders in the industry, but no representation of them leading in the ads in Asia.”

The London-based Brazilian is keen to stress that the ‘Unstereotype’ campaign is not only about gender or just portraying women, it is about portraying people who have different sexual orientations, gender, level of education, their accents and their social economic levels.

“At Unilever, our narrative of being more inspiring for people, giving them a sense of representation and the sense of inspiration with our ads ignited our staff,” says Santos.

“When we started doing the first ads with the mindset of unstereotyping, the response we received from markets and consumers was overwhelming because of the response. There was renewed energy with our marketers and creatives to work together in partnership to create something that was new.”

For Santos, Unilever’s mission can only be called a success when it transforms all its advertising into something that is not regressive, but realistic and progressive.

“The other metric is to have all the industries join together fighting for the same cause so we will not see advertising that is stereotypical anymore for any brand,” she adds.

Will there finally be a change in the industry when 2019 comes? Santos says she is optimistic. “I wish to see businesses, governments and people in general, put stereotypes aside and humanity first, so that we can have a society that is more diverse, inclusive, less divide and a society that truly lives the values of unstereotype.”

Like its fight to improve the integrity, transparency and measurement of influencer marketing, as well as its mission to clean up the supply chain in order to stop advertisers losing money to issues like ad fraud and opaque digital measurement, Unilever is doing all it can to push the world 50 years ahead.

The Drum will be reporting from Spikes this week. To keep up to date with the latest content, check out The Drum’s Spikes Asia page.

Spikes Asia Stereotypes Stereotyping

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