Is Women’s (Mis)representation in Ads a Surprise?

04/07/2017

Upon investigating some of the key insights industry experts took away from this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, it was a remark from Madeline Di Nonno, Chief Executive of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender and Media (GDI) that has stirred debate. She expressed her surprise after finding out that women are still misrepresented in adverts.

A study conducted by GDI and J. Walter Thompson (JWT) revealed that men are shown in broadcast ads around four times as often as women, and men are also found to speak more than seven times more than women. What’s more, according to their analyses, 25% of adverts feature men only, whilst 5% of adverts feature just women.

These figures indisputably reveal the gender inequality challenges we face on a daily basis. Wendy Clark, CEO and president of DDB, believes we must ‘stay restless’ on these challenges; but are we also quick to ignore the progress we have made?

Whilst these figures may appear unexpected to many, and Di Nonno’s surprise may be justified, maybe we need to look beyond the numbers. We only have to think about Dove’s ‘Real Beauty’ and Always’ ‘#LikeAGirl’ campaigns to be reminded that women’s representation in advertising has come a long way in a fairly short time.

Both are examples of campaigns celebrating women for who they are, and recognising what women can achieve, regardless of gender stereotypes. Admittedly, it only takes one ‘Beach Body Ready’ campaign to undermine this hard work. But all things considered, while women’s representation in advertising might seem lower than expected, there are some progressive pieces of work worth celebrating.

Thinking more holistically, these statistics don’t feel surprising. Women are still very much under-represented in an array of industries, including politics, science, business, and indeed the creative world. Diversity within the advertising industry is a source of much debate of late, and with men still dominating most senior positions within the creative world, it shouldn’t be a surprise that women are underrepresented in advertisements. A look at the facts suggests that the lack of female presence on our screens is reflective of the sad reality that many are trying to tackle within our industry, and beyond.

Indeed, just 27% of CEOs in creative/ media agencies are women. However, Di Nonno says she assumed women would get even more air-time than men in the advertising world, bearing in mind that women make 80% of household purchasing decisions (Forbes, 2016). Yet, given the nature of our society, and indeed our industry, this assumption may have been a little ambitious.

There is clearly an appetite for change. Minority groups, including female senior managers, must join forces to make this quest for progress more realistic. Clark believes that sharing plans and actions is a good starting point, in order to achieve fairer representation that will also start to ripple across other sectors.

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