At its best, advertising captures our society. However, ads and the real world still diverge on the concept of gender and gender stereotypes. The reality is, our world differs greatly from how it's represented in advertising.
Shattering outmoded stereotypes isn’t just for the betterment of society: gender-positive ads pay off. Brands reap the benefits by expanding their social base and building a stronger, more thoughtful image.
A Facebook study shows that 79% of surveyed women and 75% of men say they feel more favorable toward a brand promoting gender equality. In addition, ads depicting women in roles traditionally associated with men lead to feelings of social connectedness and complimentary views for the brand, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).
Below, you'll find more reasons to consider avoiding gender stereotypes in your ads. In turn, we'll give tips on what creative strategies you can use to be gender-friendly.
Forget about the "manly vs. girly" duality
Imagine an unfortunate man in the kitchen doing the dishes while his wife is out of town. He's clumsily breaking plates and spilling water all over the place. Now, picture a clueless secretary in heels and a pencil skirt. She's asking a tech guy wearing jeans and a hoodie to install the Instagram app on her phone. These are ridiculous cliches, don't you agree?
Every day, we see evidence of people laughing in the face of traditional gender stereotypes. There are men who are excellent cooks, can handle domestic chores and perform stereotypically feminine jobs without batting an eye. Just as there are women whose passions lie in management, technology and the military, no matter how “manly” those paths are perceived to be. Reality decries gender stereotypes — in actuality, the supposed gender roles are blended and have no distinct boundaries.
Tips. Choose images of people that do not conform to traditional roles. Lacking masculinity is not synonymous with inferiority or weakness. Not all guys are massive and muscular. Not all men want to dominate. Don't be afraid to show gents wearing pink and caring for children. On the other hand, using natural, unfiltered images of women exuding confidence when solving unglamorous problems can be forward-thinking enough to expand your audience and resonate with more customers. A damsel in distress can change her own flat tire!
A young, suntanned woman in a skimpy bikini hugs a cold bottle with condensation against her overflowing cleavage. What you just imagined could be any beer or soda advertisement. But does sex sell? A recent study casts doubt. Flooding the audience with provocative images of women and men may backfire on a company’s final objective, which is to sell products.
Research has shown that women react negatively to both female and male sexualized ads, discouraging them from purchasing the advertised products. What is more surprising, suggestive ads don't persuade men to buy items any more frequently than neutral ads. Creating non-sexualized images can be more challenging but more rewarding.
Tips. There's a difference between objectifying and celebrating beauty. It's the context of the image that is the important distinction. Images that show women exposing skin in suggestive poses is a no-no. However, it's perfectly fine to advertise a skin oil and depict a woman’s body in a neutral yet creative manner. Real women with natural bodies are also preferable to unattainable model-like proportions. Relatable images help the audience feel safe and more comfortable.
Be more LGBTQ inclusive
LGBTQ perspectives should be considered and included when forming a new ad campaign. Don't limit yourself to female- or male-targeted research and messages. Take inspiration from Subaru.
In the early ‘90s, the car brand carried out a series of focus groups and customer surveys across the US. It turned out that lesbians were identified as their primary customers. Subaru found that lesbian and gay consumers loved cars like the Forrester because they supported their lifestyle.
As part of the campaign, Subaru ran a series of print adverts with taglines like "It's not a choice, it's the way we're built." The ads didn't focus entirely on whether consumers might be gay or lesbian. Rather, they were speaking to people for who they are, not what they are. Subaru's sales were steadily declining in the years leading up to the campaign. However, in the years that followed, sales rose remarkably.
Tips. Whenever people are shown, add LGBTQ individuals. However, it is essential to avoid using stereotypes and clichés that alienate the LGBTQ community. Be sensitive. Beware of over-simplifying. An unbalanced depiction of highly effeminate gay men or extremely masculine women is archaic. Portray real gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, not stock models pretending to be LGBTQ. Authenticity matters. Consider same-sex pairings in everyday situations, such as at home, driving, shopping or eating. Incorporate transgender people into a mundane routine. You can try unexpected twists, subvert time-worn clichés and add humor.
Targeting traditional gender roles feels increasingly out of fashion. Questioning, challenging and playing with the idea of gender is a rewarding approach. Gender-positive messaging elicits goodwill and loyalty. So, it's wise to create content that caters to various audiences. Because feeling a little closer to the people portrayed in an ad makes consumers like the advertisement and the brand a little more.