Cheers all round as Unilever remove stereotyping from all advertising

We couldn’t help but cheer at the latest announcement from Unilever that it intends to remove all sexist stereotypes from its advertising!

It’s about time! And, as specialists in marketing to women, we say bring on the changes; the industry is in desperate need of a shake up.

Emma Jones and Sam Ellison (F)
Sam Ellison (L) and Emma Jones (R)

Since the dawn of advertising brand owners, designers, advertisers and copywriters have used stereotypes to set scenes, provide persuasive messages, tell a story we can relate to and ultimately sell products. Women are from Venus and men are from Mars. Women are emotive and men are practical. Women make purchasing decisions based on the aesthetics of a product. Men want a product that does the job and does it well. These are just a few of the tired misapprehensions the industry has laboured under for generations.

What is understood loud and clear throughout the industry is that men and women are different and that a unique approach, particularly when marketing to women is essential. So how have the vast majority of advertising campaigns got it so wrong for so long? Why has it taken an announcement from Unilever to remove all sexist stereotypes from its advertising to make this subject hit the headlines?

Is it because industry bodies such as the Advertising Standards Authority recently launched an investigation and has called on the general public and stakeholders to send evidence of stereotyping in advertising?

Or is it because brand owners and advertisers are experiencing a decline in engagement with, and sales of, products that traditionally sold well with women? Are we being forced (at last) to bow to pressure from consumers?

We think it is because women have evolved dramatically in the last 60-plus years. They are society’s big spenders, accounting for 51% of the population, and influence a staggering 85% of all consumer purchases. They have become the powerhouse of consumerism, the benchmark by which brands need to measure the effectiveness of their advertising campaigns.

The announcement by Unilever is part of a much bigger movement – a general shift in attitudes– and they aren’t the only players in the industry to be embracing a new way of thinking; Nike, Turtle wax, Bodyform and the Badger & Winters campaign to stop objectifying women are testament to this.

What makes the announcement by Unilever so groundbreaking and newsworthy is that it often takes major industry players to force the hand of the marketplace to incite a revolution. This is yet another instance where Unilever are the brand that leads by example.

We think this move by Unilever shows real championing of the cause and its fair to say that they’ve created some of the most memorable and progressive ads. The commitment to remove stereotypes, and in particular those that affect women, shows they are really investing in understanding their female consumer on a deeper level and not simply being satisfied with a one dimensional perspective.

That said there is still much to be tackled – stereotypes can be extremely subtle and this, we feel, is still rife. The figures don’t lie – 40% of women say they don’t identify with the women portrayed in ads. Marketers need to work harder at ‘seeing it as she sees it’. Talking to women in a language they relate to and that doesn’t patronise. As women, we are a complex, contradictory and highly demanding audience. We want brands to ‘get us’ and to recognize how brands fit into our lives. We want brands to invoke emotions – we want them to make us laugh (and cry), we want brands that can really show they understand the complexities of our lifestyles and the variety of roles we play everyday.

This requires a more intuitive and empathetic approach, but when it works brands will have created an advocate for life. Don’t assume she needs the hard sell – let her join the dots. Use the power of an image; the subtle nuances of facial expression, and the insight humour can give into your understanding of her mind-set. We’ve said it time and time again and we will keep on saying it until it really resonates – if you want to engage with women who are a highly influential audience you need to be authentic! Anything disingenuous will result in a lost customer and possibly all her friends to boot.

The relationship today’s consumers have with brands is changing, it is time for marketing to get more personal. The modern consumer demands more from the brands they buy. Marketers need to move away from the transactional to a more meaningful relationship. They need to stop simply creating awareness and start making more meaningful connections. It is unforgivable, but in our experience quite common, that women still think they are portrayed as men see them NOT as they see themselves.

Unilever now faces a number of challenges to implement this commitment; not least of which is finding a way to get its entire brand portfolio aligned. It will also need to have a more considered approach to not only the subtleties of marketing to women but also a better understanding of the sensitivities across countries and genders for their global brands.

It is our hope that this move by Unilever will make the rest of the industry sit and take notice. We hope it spurs a better way of marketing effectively and that more brands realise that this shift is not yet another short lived trend or fad. It’s a global shake up that is about brands becoming more human, its about getting to grips with all the different things that feed into the way women think and feel and to understand how as a brand you can fit into her life and how you can express that understanding.

About the authors

Emma Jones

Emma has 20 years experience directing award winning projects and long term client relationships as Head of Client Services and Strategy for leading agencies such as Anthem Worldwide, The Chase, Enterprise IG (Brand Union), and Brown ID/Added Value. She has worked on many international brands including, Persil, Comfort, Scrabble, Pedigree, Whiskas, Huggies, Kleenex, Revlon, No7 and Heaven.

Sam Ellison

Sam’s journey to Redshoe started client side where she worked as a buyer for M&S and latterly in senior marketing roles for Nestle. This is where she kick started her interest in gender marketing having directed the award winning project Yorkie ‘not for girls’.Following the birth of her children, she successfully helped launch an on-line media business, before joining Anthem.

About Redshoe

Founded by Emma Jones and Sam Ellison in 2010 Redshoe is a strategic lifestyle agency designed for communicating with women. We get women and help brands translate this understanding into strategy, packaging, website and communications. We are a team of highly experienced and creative likeminded individuals across strategy, trends and design. 2015 were appointed as UK representatives on the global steering committee for M2W.

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