Latest thinking from Jo
A recent study by Michael Brown from UM, revealed staggering statistics on how women and men feel about they are represented in advertising. Of the 2000 people asked, a majority agreed that the portrayal of women is largely based on stereotypes and is not accurately representative. Instead, women felt they were repeatedly shown as bimbos, domestic goddesses or shopaholics, whilst the idea of women as leaders sat at completely the other end of the spectrum. Similarly, men recognised that ideas of being unemotional, laddy and sporty were what incorrectly defines ‘male’ in the world of advertising.
Unfortunately, the scariest part of all of this is that despite acknowledging the unrealistic nature of these representations, both men and women reported having compared themselves against these standards and feeling inadequate. Teenage girls aged 13-17 were particularly critical of themselves, as were women aged 45-54, who also must contend with the social stigma of aging. The effects can be catastrophic, with Mind highlighting that the ‘male’ idea of being unemotional discourages conversations and can be contributing to the horrific reality of suicide as the biggest killer of men under 45.
Thankfully there are some excellent examples of brands challenging these ideas, helping to break down misconceptions and demonstrate modern reality. McCain’s recent ‘We are family’ advert shows an array of different family combinations coming together for meal times and a real sense of togetherness. By showcasing race, age and sexuality they begin to challenge the idea of normal – “because normal isn’t normal”. EDF energy also have an interesting point of view, having acknowledged that only 1 in 5 people working in STEM industries are female. Their play on words is about girls being pretty curious, pretty focused and in turn being pretty determined to help change these statistics. Although not explicitly outlining what they intend to do to tackle this, it demonstrates that all brands, even the most unlikely can challenge boundaries, if done correctly. Not only this, but further evidence in UM’s study showed that almost half would buy from these more progressive organisations, so it makes business sense too.
We should therefore all be aware and prepared to pull brands up on their representation of our society. It’s these images that our young people grow up seeing and measure themselves against. Even as we get older, these ideas of the world around us continue to influence and bias us. Advertising has the power to exclude and silence people, when really it should be used to champion and celebrate difference. Likewise, as people working within the marketing world, we too must recognise that we have the power to make positive change.