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There are still way too many women doing laundry in advertisements

A new survey by The Female Quotient and Ipsos finds marketers aren’t doing a good enough job in reflecting the diversity of real life.

There are still way too many women doing laundry in advertisements

Ask the average person to rate their love of advertising and the answer will probably land somewhere in the range between waiting in line at the DMV and a hot lava enema. But despite a general loathing for what many consider a necessary evil for free YouTube videos and Sunday afternoons of NFL football, advertising does have a significant influence on how we see ourselves and others.

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This is especially true with children. If every TV ad a child sees depicts women as just a good-looking piece of arm candy, guess what that kid’s impression of women is going to be?

The U.N.’s the Unstereotype Alliance today announced the results of a new global study conducted by The Female Quotient and Ipsos, in which the groups surveyed 14,700 men and women aged 16 to 64, across 28 countries. The survey found:

  • 76% of consumers believe that “advertising has a lot of power to shape how people perceive each another”
  • 72% feel that “most advertising does not reflect the world around me”
  • 63% claim that “I don’t see myself represented in most advertising”
  • 60% say, “I don’t see my community of friends, family, and acquaintances represented accurately in most advertising.”

These results are especially disappointing because better representation has been an ongoing topic of discussion within the ad industry for years. Just this past June at the Cannes Lions festival, the Unstereotype Alliance launched a short film, The Problem Is Not Seeing the Problem, illustrating the lazy casting choices that lead to this impression.

U.N. Women executive director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says the issue is selective blindness toward inclusivity. “Brands, agencies, and advertising leadership need to get more used to the idea that advertising should not only be used to sell a product, influence a choice, or build loyalty to a brand,” says Mlambo-Ngcuka. “It can and should also be a force for good.”

That sentiment echoes one made by the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) and the White House in a 2016 initiative called #SeeHer, which sought to encourage advertisers, creators, and the media to make content that authentically portrays diverse women and girls. That same year, agency MullenLowe created a PSA that showed how children already define career opportunities as male and female.

As frustrating as the results of the Unstereotype Alliance study are, when it comes to diverse representation, the stats on influence remain encouraging if brands and marketers can somehow use it for good.

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For advice in how to do that, let’s once again jump back to 2016, to an excellent Cannes Lions presentation called “Men vs Women: Exploring Marketing’s Impact on Gender Bias,” by Kim Getty, president of ad agency Deutsch.

Getty says that advertisers should be asking themselves, does this capture the world as it is today, or are you using dated references? “I think sometimes, maybe because we only have 30 seconds, it’s a shortcut to play into outdated gender norms.”

Thankfully, not all ads fall into these cliched traps. Look no further than Covergirl’s work with Issa Rae to see a smart, funny woman presenting an image of beauty that doesn’t completely revolve around what some dude thinks.

This old Glenfiddich spot subtly subverts the typical casting choice, by making it a daughter, while not banging us over the head (LOOK! IT’S A GIRL!) with the choice.

“Because women make up nearly half the workforce, when you’re writing a script with a woman in it, assume she works,” Getty told the audience at Cannes. “Just start there. When you’re writing a story for a man, assume he knows how to change a diaper and make dinner. Assume he’s capable, because so many men are awesome and capable. Just start there. So many stories don’t start there. Let’s start with how the world looks today.”

Two years later, it still makes perfect sense.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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