February 02, 2019

by Duncan Southgate

We released the AdReaction: Getting Gender Right report, following many months of analytic investigation into the roles of gender in marketing. As the mixed response to Gillette’s “We Believe” film has shown, society and the marketing industry are still far from certain about how gender progressive brands should and could be. Our own gender journey has confirmed some of existing beliefs but also thrown up many surprises along the way. So, what have we learned, and how has that made me feel?

Firstly, I’m irritated that global marketers still seem complacent about gender equality. Almost all marketers we spoke to believe they are avoiding gender stereotypes, yet 45 percent of consumers we interview still think women and men are being portrayed inappropriately. There is a significant perception gap to be bridged.

I’m also amazed at the power of gender-balanced brands and appalled at how much financial value brands with strong gender skews are leaving on the table. It may seem obvious that broader appeal will result in more sales, yet only in three brands manage to achieve this balance. Some strategic gender corrections are seriously required.

I’m disappointed to see the industry is currently struggling with female portrayals. Ads which feature only women are significantly less impactful, underlining the importance of initiatives like #freethebid which seek to put more women behind the camera to create more authentic female portrayals.

I’m surprised that industry stereotypes are potentially a bigger issue than consumer attitudinal differences. For example, both women and men strongly prefer ads using humour. Yet the industry deploys humour twice as often for ads featuring men than it does for ads featuring women. More strong roles for comediennes please!

As a digital advocate, I’m sad to see online media failing women. Despite similar creative response scores by gender, we’re seeing less in-market brand impact. It seems that women (especially young women) are rightly irritated by invasive, non-skippable online ad formats, and also less convinced that online targeting approaches are reliable. So online media planning could use more of a female lens.

Finally, to end on a positive note, I’m inspired to see the serious actions and programs being deployed by our major advertiser clients such as Unilever and Diageo. Brands which have added gender equality metrics to their ad testing and are embracing initiatives like Unstereotype Alliance are starting to reap the rewards of stronger impact from more aspirational and more authoritative gender portrayals. Getting Gender Right won’t happen overnight, but these brands are helping to show the way.

So, what do you think? How do these findings make you feel? How is the role of gender being tackled in your marketing programs?

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