Consumers say gender roles have changed. Why hasn’t advertising?
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of articles from MarketingCharts, which provides up-to-the-minute data and research to marketers.
Three in four Americans believe that traditional gender roles have changed, but advertising isn’t keeping pace with expectations for gender inclusivity, according to a study from Omnicom Media Group (OMG).
Virtually all respondents believe that a range of societal roles and behaviors — from cooking family meals to caring for children, purchasing groceries, caring about one’s appearance and being career-focused — are appropriate for both men and women. Indeed, half of men and 59 percent of women identified themselves as not completely masculine or feminine.
Yet respondents are more likely to believe that there is equal gender representation in media than that there is already non-gendered advertising (57 percent and 38 percent, respectively). In fact, respondents are as likely to believe in equal career opportunities as they are in non-gendered advertising.
These results bring to mind research that came out last year from J. Walter Thompson that showed:
- In an analysis of ads released in 2017, men portrayed in commercials were twice as likely as women to have a job, widening a gap seen in ads from 2006 – 2016;
- An analysis of ads released from 2006 – 2016 found women being almost 50 percent more likely than men to be shown in the kitchen.
In the OMG survey, 39 percent believed that advertising does not accurately represent all genders, and 30 percent felt that brands misrepresent them and their gender.
There are some potential pitfalls to brands taking a stand, as only around one-third of respondents believe that brands should do so on gender issues. And brands risk alienating their existing customers: almost three-quarters would have a negative response to a brand they currently like or use if it became publicly known that the brand’s opinions on gender issues were different than the consumer’s. That includes almost one-third who would stop purchasing the brand.
But research last year from Weber Shandwick found almost half (48 percent) of Americans believe that CEOs and business leaders should express their opinion about gender equality, against 30 percent who feel they shouldn’t. More recently, survey results from Sprout Social indicated that a similar 48 percent of social media users feel that all brands should take a stand on gender equality, against 26 percent who feel that it’s not a brand’s place.
- Consumers: Gender Roles Have Changed. Advertising Hasn’t. – MarketingCharts
- People Complain of Gender Stereotyping and Lack of Diversity on TV – MarketingCharts
- CEO Activism: The Issues Americans Do and Don’t Want to Hear About – MarketingCharts
- Championing Change in the Age of Social Media – Sprout Social
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is there a logical reason why much of advertising may still be resorting to stereotypes in depicting genders? Is gender-neutral advertising the answer or is that an over-simplification?
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14 Comments on "Consumers say gender roles have changed. Why hasn’t advertising?"
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Strategy Architect – Digital Place-based Media
When thoughtful message marketing through copy and creative gave way to media buying, the charm of marketing gave way to mass advertising. It served Madison Avenue well as quantity over quality filled bank accounts. But the wide range of communications devices now begs micro-marketing and contextual messaging.
President, Max Goldberg & Associates
Eventually gender-neutral advertising will become the norm, but right now advertising, like many other aspects of society, can be polarizing, and retailers need to determine how far they want to go into these turbulent waters.
President, Ipsos Retail Performance
Advertising generally does not look to set our society’s norms, it merely tries to reflect and leverage general understanding to promote its message. Perhaps there is a natural time lag between the advertising and society with society setting what is the norm — advertising for the most part is merely a follower.
Founder, CEO, Black Monk Consulting
CEO, One Door
Today, a majority feel gender depictions are properly represented so there is no reason for a mass-market buyer to change their approach. What will be interesting is watching how fast cultural norms shift as advertisers choose to speak appropriately to the 30 percent.
President, The Ian Percy Corporation
This gets into a tricky territory for discussion. I’m personally quite pleased to see indications society has begun to accept and recognize the reality of a wide variety of roles.
That said, when 80 percent or more of your customers see themselves within gender stereotyped roles (while being open to other people challenging those stereotypes), it is not smart for much advertising spending to portray anything other than your core customer or an expert they respect.
Yes, advertisers should push into some new territory — but do it carefully. Business is business. Businesses may have some ability to help social change — but promoting change in advertising is not good for the economy, their customers, their employees or their suppliers.
President, The Ian Percy Corporation
Doug, I’d be interested in why you say “promoting change in advertising is not good for the economy, their customers, their employees or their suppliers.” I have a different view and that is that the ONLY purpose of advertising is to promote change. If it doesn’t do that there is no point to it. You do say advertisers should do it carefully and I sure agree with that. I always appreciate your commentary.
CEO, The Customer Service Rainmaker, Rainmaker Solutions
This is a subject that is in some ways difficult to focus on. There are more than two sides to consider. One, and the most important to the advertisers, is who are they sending the messages to? They hope they are the ones who are going to buy the products. But what age and demographic do they fall in? Are they older and not readily acceptable to the changes of gender roles? It is hard to determine. And where do they draw the line on who they depict in the advertising? Is it determined again by the customer or the product? If it is the product; then the buyer and that person’s age, etc. will determine how the advertising is generated. This is just the tip of the iceberg. As time goes on, things will change and become acceptable where they have not been before. Time always seems to be the determining factor of when something is acceptable.
President, Global Collaborations, Inc.
The only ads I have notices that consciously address changing gender roles are those for Tide and some cereals. The brand and advertising managers realize that not only women do laundry and eat cereal with their kids. Why have I not noticed anyone else making that change? The laggards will lose market share.
VP of Strategy, Aptos
CFO, Weisner Steel
The question — and to some extent the survey — seems to confuse “not gender specific” with “equally represented,” but that’s hardly the case. There may be both male/female construction workers, fire…fighters (yes, I started to write “firemen”) or nurses, but the numbers are hardly 50/50. And of course there’s nothing to say advertising is supposed to be a mirror of reality.
So my short answer is “yes, it’s an oversimplification” — a big one.
Vice President Retail, Tori Richard Principal, Osorio Group LLC, dba JAM with Mike®
Mass advertising platforms (TV, magazines, mainstream websites) will remain as is — using stereotypical gender roles because they must by definition appeal to the “average” perceptions. I’ve seen studies that show that most people prefer the comfort of traditional portrayals rather than their own reality. I do think this will change over time as Gens Y & Z age into mass consumerism, but don’t expect major shifts.
The place to see modern gender roles and other realities is in niche advertising platforms as well as from those brands that self-identify as catering to modern families and other growing entities such as LGBT, elderly, etc. As these niche platforms continue to grow in importance and in their ability to micro-target individuals, there will likely be a tipping point where this will spill over somewhat into mass advertising.