If 2018 was the year the #MeToo movement captured the public stage, 2019 seems to be the year where the conversation rages on over gender-based advertising says FoxP2’s Head of Strategy, Rosemary Baronetti.
The UK Advertising Standards Authority made international news headlines in June 2019 with a new ruling that it will prohibit gender stereotypes in British advertising. This includes adverts that play up roles deemed more feminine or male, send derogatory messages around body image or depict gender-based violence. This legislation has sparked a global debate around the role of advertising in shaping gender and inequality.
While this is a first for the UK, it is something that South African advertising has had in place for some time, along with a handful of progressive countries including Norway, Belgium and France. Our Code of Advertising Practice, like our Constitution, is a forerunner of inclusivity. It states:
“Gender stereotyping or negative gender portrayal shall not be permitted in advertising unless, in the opinion of the ASA, such stereotyping or portrayal is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.” – Section II, 3.5
Gillette’s campaign, The Best a Man Can Get, which tackles toxic masculinity, has been at the forefront of discussions around gender-based advertising with over 1.5 million negative sentiment reviews on YouTube. Many people felt the advert missed the mark in trying to promote male messaging and ended up man shaming by reinforcing negative male stereotypes.
So, how is it that some brands have managed to turn gender topics into a positive brand strategy, while others have fallen flat and been accused of perpetuating gender stereotypes? Here is a look at some of the successful strategies that various brands have applied.
1. Challenge the stereotype that women are weak
Brands portray women as powerful protagonists by promoting new gender norms. Women are seen as strong and independent.
- Nike; Dream Crazier
- Converse; Spark Progress
- Under Armour; I Will What I Want
- Royal Air Force; No Room for Clichés
- Libresse tampons; Blood
2. Breaking down the stereotype that men always have to be strong
The role of masculinity is changing in society, and brands are opening up conversations around masculinity, vulnerability, mental health and strength.
- Carling Black Label; What Does it Mean to Be a Man
- Axe; Is it Ok for Guys to Be…
- The CALMzone; Every week, 84 Men Take Their Own Lives
- Cummin&Partners; Unmute
3. Promote positive female body image and self-image
Female beauty brands are breaking with the tradition of portraying an idealised version of female aesthetic by rather focusing on women reacting to their own self-image and narrative.
4. Endorsing shared responsibility at home
While most modern households are now dual income, women still perform the lion’s share of child-rearing and household chores. Brands that have traditionally focused on mothers are starting to include fathers in their communication to encourage more equal sharing of responsibility in the home.
5. Challenge Pink Tax
Pink Tax awareness is gaining traction, with consumers questioning why they should pay more for a product that is targeted at women or girls. Some brands have embraced this commercial injustice as a topic they can get behind.
Some may feel these strategies are blatant opportunism on the part of brands to garner affinity and attention, and they may not be wrong. However, advertising has always had the potential to create and shape the culture of the times and be a powerful barometer. Hopefully, this means we can expect to see less finger-wagging and narrow stereotyping and a whole lot more inspirational portrayals of positive self-image, role models and gender norms.