The Truth about Gender Bias in Ads in 2017

Share this post

Gender biases in advertising are almost as prevalent in society as they were more than a decade ago, according to the research done by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and J. Walter Thompson 2017 Cannes Lions.

Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, stunned a panel of brand leaders with statistics from the 12-year study of more than 2,000 English language advertisements. The study uses a computer program, called the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, to calculate screen and speaking time for different genders and races. In return, these measurements provide significant data on the unconscious bias that exist in the media.

Some of the most shocking results were that males in advertisements are on screen four times more often, speak seven times more often, and are 89 percent more likely to be portrayed as “smart.” Women, on the other hand, are ten years younger on average, are 48 percent more likely to be shown in a kitchen, and are five times more likely to be shown in sexually revealing clothing, according to the 2017 Cannes Lions. The most disheartening statistic of all? These results are all too similar to the same study’s results in 2006, more than a decade prior.

Lynn Power, CEO of J. Walter Thompson New York, led the discussion on this data with three panelists: Jeffrey Rothman, Vice President of Marketing Strategy & Innovation at DanoneWave, Beauty and Fashion Consultant Karen Adam and Debra Bass, President of Global Marketing Services at Johnson & Johnson Consumer Companies.

Rothman, notably the only male on the panel, took the responsibility on his shoulders and called all males to recognize their role in the creation and longevity of this problem as well as enforce change in their own organizations. Bass agreed, adding in that men must be the sponsors that support women. Men must actively be pulling women up at the conference table alongside them.

“We must take conscious action or the unconscious will rule the day,” said Rothman.

Rothman suggested two ways to make more men care about this issue: show results and take action. Customers will connect to brand they feel accurately represents them, therefore making a company more successful.

“What gets measured gets done,” said Rothman.

Unconscious bias is so ingrained in advertisements that it often goes ignored or unnoticed by audiences. Adams pointed out how many smaller or newer companies that do not have preconceived notions on how to run businesses are often more open to trying new things, like authentic representation of their clients in ad campaigns.

Large corporations and companies must be playing their part in addressing the issue of gender bias. One way to do this is to diversify the advertising staff. All panelists agreed that change starts from inside the organizations.

“Until the people creating the content represent the population, nothing is going to change,” said Bass.

DanoneWave, the biggest benefit corporation in the U.S., has a responsibility to improve environmental and social concerns in the U.S. And while DanoneWave is consistently making progress on these goals, it is not enough, according to Rothman. Rothman called for DanoneWave to strive for equal representation in the workplace as a start to addressing unconscious gender biases.

Agreeing, Bass stated that companies need to start “unleashing big for good.” The public is looking for actors outside of government to drive the social agenda, according to Rothman.

Big companies need to take responsibility for their role in reinforcing gender biases and take a courageous stance in changing norms, according to Bass.

Wrapping up the discussion, the panelists’ final advice to companies wanting to address gender biases in their media was to continue challenging the status quo– nothing will change until powerful leaders actively decide to make the unconscious, conscious.

Share this post
1 Comment
  1. The statistics given at the beginning of your piece are totally opposite to what I see on TV advertising every day. As a rule, the woman is smart, the man is dumb; the smart woman uses the advertised product while the dumb man uses brand X. The woman is portrayed as being the decision maker in the home while the man submits or is invisible. Even more shocking, little girls dominate advertising while little boys are rarely seen. Advertising today is definitely a woman’s (and girl’s) world!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.