If advertising is a mirror on society, then most people of the world don’t recognize themselves.
Globally, including in the U.S, seven in 10 men and women say advertising doesn’t reflect their lives or world. Three in five don’t see themselves or other people in their lives represented in most ads. This is what people said in a global survey Ipsos conducted with the Female Quotient for the Unstereotype Alliance.
The survey underscores how powerfully advertising shapes people’s perceptions about themselves and others. The people polled acknowledge that marketers have made progress in depicting their lives in a more realistic way. But the results also show room for improvement. Nearly two-thirds of people say advertisers need to do more to cut old-fashioned gender roles from ads.
In May, the World Federation of Advertisers launched guidelines for more progressive gender portrayals in advertising. It is part of the WFA’s commitment as a founding member of the Unstereotype Alliance. Global marketing leaders praised the guide and vowed to help tackle sexism in ads.
“Empowering marketers everywhere to challenge gender stereotypes and celebrate diversity couldn’t be more important,” said Syl Saller, chief marketing officer at Diageo, in a statement about the launch.
Ad agency McCann Worldgroup Canada conducted a five-part, year-long study on women’s changing roles in Canadian society, media and life. It included an Ipsos survey of men and women across Canada, consumer workshops, one-on-one interviews with business and cultural leaders and dinners with women of influence across Canada.
As marketers work to advance these changes, consumer research becomes even more vital, says Heather Carruthers, president of US Ipsos UU. A former global marketing executive, she’s seen the power of qualitative research to ensure that messages fit progressive roles and views.
Gender is just the beginning
“It’s so much bigger than a male-female issue,” says Carruthers. “What people really want is to see imperfections and truth and authenticity. People want advertising to depict people in real life or ‘people like me.’”
Sometimes, by the time an idea gets to market, “the team is almost too close to it,” says Carruthers. “And what started as a great idea can miss the mark in execution. As researchers, we come in as an objective party to be the voice of the consumer.”
Whether it’s highlighting men cleaning their homes or real people in real life for advertising, marketers are starting to embrace the notion of being relatable versus fitting idealized gender norms.
This becomes even more important as people are choosing the advertising they see, says Carruthers. “People have already curated their version of ‘people like me,” and it’s in the influencers they choose to follow. Observing people in context in real life and co-creation with your target is how you get to insights that illustrate these choices, not creating ideas in the vacuum of a board room.”