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Why There Is Still a Battle to Be Fought around Misrepresentation of Midlife Women in Advertising


Natalie Hollands, client partner for retail and TechCo at Clear Channel UK on the refreshing narrative of JD Williams 'changing the narrative' campaign

Why There Is Still a Battle to Be Fought around Misrepresentation of Midlife Women in Advertising

The Problem

“For too long, midlife women have been underrepresented by the fashion and beauty industry”, states Esme Stone, head of brand at JD Williams. Whilst I might not be at the targeted ‘midlife’ stage myself quite yet, I’m one of too many women who can’t help but feel frustrated by the lack of, or often worse, complete misrepresentation of older females we’ve seen in the retail space over the years, particularly highlighted in advertising.

And no, I’m not stuck in the past thinking about those 'Your wife would LOVE a vacuum for Christmas' ads from the 50s & 60s. As I set about drafting this piece, I was overwhelmed with the amount of advice I was immediately served about 'how one should dress in their mid-years' and the rules of what you 'should' or 'should not' wear, all at the mere search of 'midlife female fashion' on Google.

JD Williams

This deluge of ‘advice’ is exactly why it’s so refreshing to hear JD Williams’ commitment to “changing the narrative around ‘midlife’ by representing women at this life stage" and to see their fantastic latest campaign hit Clear Channel’s digital screen locations in key cities around the UK in May. The campaign highlighted the online fashion retailer’s latest products, as you’d expect, but featured a wide range of models from different backgrounds and ages. The campaign led with the strapline “admit it, this age thing suits you”, perfectly encapsulating the ethos of the campaign. I love everything about it, both professionally and personally. 

Representation matters in advertising and the reality is that this group remains a large sub-section of the population who feel totally ignored by brands, only exacerbated in the fashion and beauty sector. Parent company of JD Williams, N Brown Group, found in their own 2021 ‘Womankind’ survey that a massive “70% of women aged 45-plus do not feel understood or valued by fashion retailers”.

Applying the Clear Channel 'Powerful Posters' lens, this campaign delivers everything that a great brand message in Out-of-Home (OOH) should – it’s bold, bright, simple (and a little on the cheeky side). But more than that, it cuts right to the issue. It demonstrates a brand who understands the problem and has listened to their audience, which should reap rewards. Latest industry research into representation in advertising, found that delivering a more inclusive message saw purchase intent increase by 26% amongst audiences 35+ (vs non-inclusive designs)*.

OOH and Solutions

And whilst showing up and tackling issues like this is commendable for any brand, to make real change you’ve got to really shout it from the rooftops, for all to hear. Which is exactly the kind of exposure poster advertising delivers, as Esme Stone rightly says: “Using Out of Home was essential to JD Williams’ strategy. Its public nature, and ability to reach everyone, conveys our intent and determination to have midlife women made visible, thus helping to change the narrative through a collective understanding”.

This statement perfectly summarises the role OOH plays. The brand is leveraging the channel’s superpower of mass reach and understands the benefits of its foundations in the real-world; powerful tools for a business who largely operates in the online space.

And this idea of a 'collective understanding' is a hot topic at Clear Channel right now, as we're working with the idea of cultural imprinting, which refers to the notion that an advert needs to make an individual feel that they’re buying into an attitude that is shared by a collective. Because, after all, Out of Home is THE Inclusive Channel. A public, trusted, real-world medium that by its very nature is designed for all. A Platform for Brands and a Platform for Good.

*Real World Research (Kinetic et al, 2021)

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Clear Channel, Fri, 09 Jun 2023 15:47:02 GMT