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UK Insights

How to ensure brands get it right

Jane Bloomfield

Head of Sales & Marketing, Kantar Millward Brown UK

Brands 04.09.2017 / 11:00

Man and woman arm wrestling

Kantar Millward Brown looks at equality in advertising

No brand sets out to create advertising that perpetuates sexual stereotypes and creates controversy. However, it’s still the case that some very questionable work seems to make it through the standard creative approval process, even from leading blue chip, household brands.

While there have been some great campaigns designed to promote gender equality in recent years, notably the Fearless Girl on Wall St and This Girl Can by Sport England, still too many appear to live in the past.

Earlier this summer, JWT and The Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media released research showing that men get four times as much screen time as women and are spoken about seven times more than women in advertising.

Similarly, research released by Unilever last year found that 40% of women don’t recognise themselves in the adverts they see. Across a range of countries and brands, it found that 50% of ads showed a negative or “not progressive” stereotype of women and just 3% showed clever or funny women.

This echoes what we see as part of our creative development research around the world. Too many of the 130,000 ads in our global database show women washing up, doing chores, silent or managing the house. They simply don’t reflect the many roles that women (and, where relevant, their partners) actually play in modern life.

This is despite the fact that there are clear commercial benefits to getting this element of brand messaging right. The Unilever-led Unstereotype Alliance celebrates the fact that progressive ads are 25% more effective.

Clearly, we still have work to do as an industry and the ASA’s Depictions, Perceptions and Harm report, which will lead to enforceable new standards on harmful stereotypes, both male and female, is significant progress.

Also welcome is the current pressure to change the gender balance in leadership positions across the industry. With a more diverse chain of command, the odds on offensive or damaging ads making it through approval are reduced but that’s not the whole story.

The challenge, of course, if that for many years we have been conditioned to see women portrayed in such ways - it’s only a few years since we hit peak lads’ mag, after all. The reaction - even for women who are highly ad literate - might often still simply be an eye roll rather than spoken criticism.

While we must continue to work hard to challenge, legislate against and reverse that conditioning, brands can also use the latest neuroscience research techniques to avoid costly mistakes by picking up the signals that consumers do not articulate - capturing those unconscious eye rolls and expressions of disgust or contempt.

Facial coding of emotional response to advertising can become a valuable part of the approval process by monitoring non-verbal signals and ensure that brands are truly practicing what they preach.

None of this means we need ad campaigns that show men doing the dishes 50% of the time. It should, however, encourage greater creativity and avoid stereotypical advertising. Great ads are powered by brand insights that shine a light on life as it really is, now, not in the 1980s or even, heaven forbid, further back in time.

Companies also have a social responsibility to ensure that they stop perpetuating those attitudes. That’s been recognised by Unilever in its leadership of the Unstereotype Alliance as well as its new Find Your Magic work for Lynx, which seeks to celebrate the ability of young men to shine in multiple ways rather than their apparent obsession with semi-naked women.

In that, it reflects the ideal that the smartest communication should embody a fundamental truth about who the brand’s audience is and what they desire.

Progressive advertising can also help change attitudes and highlight gender inequality, as was the case with Ariel’s Share the Load, which challenged existing behaviour around who manages the laundry and other household tasks.

Of course, no brand will get this right all the time. However, intuitive research techniques such as facial coding can help provide guidance, to ensure content creates a lasting impression in consumers’ minds and for the right reasons.

Source : Kantar Millward Brown

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