Advertising Gender Equality Gender Stereotypes

From RAF to Gillette: Ditching gender stereotypes in advertising is a collective task

By Fernando Desouches |

BBD Perfect Storm


Opinion article

February 27, 2019 | 5 min read

A lot has been written in recent weeks about advertising and its issues with gender stereotyping, but what is the collective action point?


From RAF to Gillette: Ditching gender stereotypes in advertising is a collective task / The RAF

The Drum’s recent article on the RAF’s diversity contest-winning ad on Channel 4, about fighting together against female stereotypes in communication, raises at least two important issues. The first being, how far we still are from fixing this problem, considering that 40% of the ads screened by Channel 4 continue to show women in stereotypical roles. The other is that, even though there is still progress to be made, brands that target women are much more advanced in fixing stereotypes than those that target men.

Clearly, many brands that target men have recognized that marketing messages which used to be effective are now no longer relevant and, in some cases, just plain unacceptable. Just imagine advertising the ‘Lynx Effect’ today.

Brands do increasingly understand that they have a social responsibility as well as a commercial one (our recent New Macho survey showed 80% of people believe ads influence gender stereotypes). They are also aware of the impact on business - according to The Book of Man, 69% of men don’t feel represented by brands.

So, in this context, what can we learn from pioneering campaigns – Dove’s “Campaign for Real Beauty”, Always’ “Like a Girl”, Sport England’s “This Girl Can” and now the RAF’s - which are changing the way women are portrayed in communication?

The fundamental point is don’t move from creating one stereotype to creating another.

First, they don’t make a broad-brush statement about femininity. They focus on empowering individual qualities, without defining what is, and isn’t, acceptable behavior for a woman. In contrast, some brands that tackled the issue from a male perspective, like Gillette Harry’s or Bonobos, have made an explicit or implicit statement on what a man should or shouldn’t be.

While advertising can provide some shorthand for society’s rules, norms and codes of behavior, that doesn’t mean brands have the right to tell people how to behave or, moreover, how they should be. Statistics show that men have higher suicide rates and face significant challenges regarding mental health, and brands should avoid adding more pressures on them. Focusing, instead, on moving from repression to empowerment.

Find and build upon the emotional territory or driver that is authentic to your brand and product

Brands should be true to themselves and build from their values. Advertisers should connect with people through an emotional territory where they have authentic credentials. In the example of Always this territory was ‘confidence’, in the case of the repositioning of Lynx, that territory was ‘attraction.’

Crucially, Lynx did not make a statement about redefining masculinity. Instead, it made a statement about attraction in a way that empowered men. The message went from being a repressive one - effectively saying “you’re not attractive enough until you wear a Lynx fragrance”, with “the Lynx Effect”, to a positive and empowering one with Lynx “Find Your Magic”. The message was “you have something that makes you attractive, go find it and Lynx will give you a set of products to enhance it”.

What can Gillette learn from Dove?

The point above can be also brought to life with the comparison of the latest Gillette campaign, “The Best a Man Can Be”, and the “Campaign for Real Beauty” from Dove.

Gillette has historically built its brand image upon a traditional view of male success: “The best a man can get”.

The current definition of success and status for men is based on money and image: how much they earn, what they own and how they look. The trouble is, chasing either is a recipe for insecurity and unhappiness. Men are competing for status in a game that can never be won. This definition of male success is as harmful for men as beauty was for women before Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign to challenge this. What Gillette got wrong was focusing on masculinity when it should have been redefining the emotional territory on which it has historically built its relationship with men: ‘Success’.

Brands have helped to break stereotypes affecting women in advertising for more than a decade, whilst they’ve only been doing the same for men for a maximum of three years. Consequently, we all still have a lot to learn in working towards the ultimate goal that brand communications pave the way towards a sustainable gender balance.

Fernando Desouches is managing director of New Macho, BBD Perfect Storm’s specialist male marketing division.

Advertising Gender Equality Gender Stereotypes

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