The #MeToo movement galvanized marketers to deliver gendered-balanced ads and heightened their awareness of sexist stereotypes, but brands still struggle to eradicate the negative portrayals of women.
To celebrate Women’s History Month and better understand if and how ads represented women, we analyzed nearly 3,000 US ads that featured people from 120+ of the world’s best-known CPG, beauty, and alcohol brands. All ads were deployed in 2020 in the US on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
The advertising industry has made some progress when it comes to improving female representation and inclusivity in their ads. Women feature more heavily in ads than we anticipated and are more likely to be cast in leadership roles than men.
For too long advertising has focused on men. Women influence 85% of all purchasing decisions, but they’re typically cast in background roles, while male characters are portrayed aspirationally: as consumers, leaders, and as individuals (i.e. funny/smart).
Brands are still perpetuating negative gender stereotypes. Men dominate professional roles and women are more likely to feature doing certain domestic activities like cleaning. Even with fewer on-screen appearances, men feature in more speaking roles.
The pandemic and lockdowns have had a greater impact on women than on men. Women lost 1 million more jobs than men in 2020 and 100% of all job losses in December. The “second shift” (unpaid domestic work women do) has never been felt this much: 67% of women took charge of their children’s home education (compared with 52% of men).
Brands continue to sexualize women in their ads. Despite the heightened consequences of sexual objectification, women continue to be featured in revealing clothing or partially, and gratuitous nudity in ads remains a problem.
Women no longer accept sexualized representations of female characters- and the damaging effect it has on their mental, emotional, and physical health: 66% of women switch off media when it stereotypes women negatively and 85% of women think advertising must catch up to the real world when it comes to gender roles.