With significant movements such as #Metoo, Time’s Up, and the Women’s March happening all over the world, the advertising industry has had to stop and think about the sexist stereotypes it has been perpetuating, and how it can change.
What Role Does Advertising Play in Promoting Sexism?
Sexism is defined as the behavior, conditions, or attitudes that foster stereotypes of social roles based on sex. Women doing the cleaning; men coming home from work expecting a hot meal on the table; women only being portrayed as sexual objects or mothers: Scenarios like these, which are largely centered on female stereotypes, have been a constant in advertising.
In 2016, research conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media found that lines of dialogue spoken in commercials by men were about 29% more likely to contain words associated with power than those of women, and 28% more likely to contain words associated with achievement.
Beer companies, especially, are notorious for sexist gender stereotypes: Budweiser’s “nagging” wife ad, Miller Lite’s “Skirt” ad, or Bud Light’s ad that pokes fun at how sexist its commercials used to be, are just a few examples.
Two more variations of sexism in advertising are oversexualizing women, like Carls Jr.’s bikini-clad commercials showing women sexually eating hamburgers, and portraying women as intellectually inferior, like this Mercedes-Benz commercial that plays on the age-old stereotype of blondes being dumb.
Because of where we’re at as a society, we’re starting to see brands attempt to make amends for their older sexist ads. For International Women’s Day 2019, Budweiser introduced a new campaign modernizing its old ads to portray empowered women. In addition, Mercedes-Benz just released a new campaign tackling the effects gender stereotypes can have on girls from a very young age.
The Rise of Femvertising
As a result of the aforementioned movements, Femvertising, or female-friendly campaigns, have been gaining momentum within the advertising industry thanks to campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty campaign.
But it’s not just all talk. Femvertising has the stats to back it up. SheKnows Media polled 628 women to see their thoughts on Femvertising and how it informed their purchasing. Of those surveyed, 71% believe brands should be responsible for using advertising to promote positive messages to women and girls. In addition, 52% have bought a product because they liked how the brand and their advertising portrays women.
Why Does Removing Female Stereotypes in Advertising Matter?
Creating ads that speak directly to women is no longer considered a niche strategy. For brands, it pays off to refrain from using gender stereotyped ads. A survey conducted by SheKnows Media found that 81% of respondents believe advertisements positively portraying women are important for younger generations to see.
Piera Gelardi, an award-winning entrepreneur, creative director, and public speaker, of Refinery29, a digital media company focused on young women, put it best when she said, “Representation matters because the stories and images we see have the power to shape how we view ourselves, each other, and the world around us.”
How We Can Change Sexism in Advertising
Here’s how change gets made: Start adding women to the creation process. Put them in decision-making roles, behind the camera, in the editing bay, and in every place that men have always been. A more diverse workplace means more diverse ideas.
With only 11% of creative directors being women, I’m proud to work for a company that not only has a female creative director, but also houses a female majority creative department.
Initiatives like #SeeHer, a partnership between the Association of National Advertisers, the Alliance for Family Entertainment, and the Female Quotient launched in 2016. #SeeHer set the goal of achieving a 20% rise in accurate portrayals of women and girls in advertising and media by 2020. Societal change isn’t going to happen overnight, but once you start chipping away at it, the mountain begins to get a lot smaller.
There’s Still Work to Be Done
Femvertising may be on the rise, but that does not mean it should always be used. Certain brands lend themselves better to Femvertising, and certain brands do not. Pandering to women just to sell products does more harm than good. Female power should not be made into a disingenuous commodity brands can capitalize on.
Meredith Fineman, founder and CEO of FinePoint, a communication and professional development company focused on visibility and voice, wrote for Harvard Business Review, “Inauthentic support cheapens the idea of women’s equality, and that is dangerous not only for the purveyors of business behind those token messages, but to the feminist movement itself.”
I’ll leave you with this. Just because we’re seeing a rise in non-sexist ads does not mean we’re not still grappling with sexism. Unconscious, and even conscious, bias continues to thrive in advertising. Yes, progress is being made, but advertising, and society as a whole, still has a long way to go. Let’s get to work.