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Opinion and Insight

God Save Us from Stereotypes

Kirsten Haack, head of business and Isis Boet, head of digital at &Rosàs ask whether it’s too outrageous to reflect a 2019 society in the advertising of 2019

God Save Us from Stereotypes

A family of four enjoying breakfast around a table in a perfect, spotless, exemplary kitchen. A perfect family. Dad, gorgeous and strong, reading the paper just before he heads off to work. Mum, beautiful and elegant at 6 am, wearing a smile as she makes sandwiches for the two little ones. Everyone is happy and everything has a very Monday feel to it. Reality or stereotype?

The Spanish Royal Academy (RAE) defines stereotypes as “subjective and emotionally charged constructs around an individual or group by another individual or group”. Advertising is a great conveyor of those subjective and emotionally charged constructs, with campaigns that constantly transmit stereotypes, going so far as to alter the perception of the real world. For decades, advertising has replicated social roles based on stereotypes of religion, race, physique, class, politics and especially gender. This we continue to do in 2019, despite the fact that, according to the Dean of the Catalan Association of Advertising and Public Relations (Col·legi de Publicitaris i Relacions Públiques de Catalunya) “76% of female consumers and 71% of male consumers feel that the way advertising portrays them is far removed from reality”. 
 
So, why don’t we change?

Why insist so much on maintaining that mirror of society that serves as a portal to an old-fashioned past and doesn’t reflect the Spain of today and of the future? Due to this, the question we must ask ourselves is, who is committed to an advertising free of gender-based stereotypes? 

On one hand, society does. More often now, we can see the way both women and men are taking to the streets calling for changes in legislation and defending the rights of women, men, communities, LGBTQI and others. Men and women that advertising needs to actively engage with. This is our target, the person who takes the final decision to buy a product or service. And if that target is out in the street demanding gender equality, the logical thing would be to reflect that defence of values of equality through producing advertisements that portray a more contemporary way of understanding gender roles. It isn’t too outrageous to reflect a 2019 society in the advertisements of 2019, is it? So, why is it that today 60% of the people believe that advertising does not offer an accurate image of women? This statistic was released by a recent opinion study of the Catalan Audiovisual Council. 

The entities with the greatest interest of all — even though in this article they are being treated as secondary stakeholders — are the companies that need advertising. After all, they are the ones who are paying the bill. Two years ago, major multinational corporations began the Unstereotype Alliance, an action platform that “aims to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes in all media and advertising content.”  And they are doing it because it’s going to make them more money. According to the study ‘AdReaction: Getting Gender Right’, published by Kantar Millward Brown, gender-balanced brands are worth more, with an average value of $20.6 billion, compared with $16.1 billion for female-skewed brands and $11.5 billion for male-skewed brands.  

The study also adds that the advertising industry is losing an average of $9 billion in brand value by not expressing and addressing women appropriately. What company is willing to lose that amount of money because it is not addressing its target properly? So, it seems clear — and forgive us, Rosalía — God save us from stereotypes, rather than from money
 
This brings us to the third, though no less important, stakeholder: the agencies. The industry professionals. We must also take a step forward. We are largely responsible for the alarming data released by a study of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, which analysed thousands of adverts between 2006 and 2016. The results show that men are four times more present in adverts than women. When you walk down the street, do you see four men for every woman in the street? Moreover, men speak seven times more than women do. And in 25% of the advertisements, there were only men, in comparison with 5% of the adverts that only portrayed women. 
 
Companies have already realised that they cannot address today’s consumers the way they did with previous generations.  Doing so would be a risk to the feasibility of their business. And this has nothing to do with whether they’re women or men; it’s simply business. For their part, in the creative and advertising sector, women marketing and creativity execs are taking increasingly more important positions, with greater decision-making power and greater influence on advertisers. And the society is mobilising itself. Phenomena like #MeToo and other hashtags that speak out against toxic masculinity are serving as leverage for a change that is already late to take root in Spain.  

Our contribution as honest professionals of advertising entails putting an end to gender stereotypes throughout our practice. An initial step to begin to break away from the social stigma of inequality between men and women is to create advertising that serves as a mirror where you want to see yourself reflected today, in 2019, whether you are a man or a woman.
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