Women are often shown as stereotyped and secondary figures in advertising – even though consumers find authoritative female personalities more persuasive, research released on Tuesday found.
Nearly half of viewers think women are portrayed inappropriately in adverts, according to a study produced by data and consultancy firm Kantar.
But it found many of those working in the industry are oblivious to the issue, with nine in 10 believing that they are showing positive images of women.
“Everyone sees advertisements and sees what those social norms are, so it becomes incredibly important that we show diversity and equality,” Shelby Quast, U.S. director for women’s rights group Equality Now, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
The study comes after the #MeToo scandal over sexual harassment opened a wider debate about the gender pay gap, stereotypes and sexism.
Advertising holds the power to either uphold or challenge gender stereotypes, the head of U.N. Women said last year, warning that those showing women as scantily clad or in demeaning situations were holding back gender equality.
Women are often shown as secondary characters to men or in stereotyped roles showing them as “likeable” or “caring”, according to the Kantar AdReaction study which examined more than 3,000 adverts tested globally in 2018.
Fewer than one in 10 featured an “authoritative” female character – even though audience testing found strong women hold greater sway over consumers.
“It is clear from our findings that some introspection is required on the part of creative and media agencies and their clients,” Kantar spokeswoman Rosie Hawkins said in a statement.
“Brands need to tread with care, and have good self-awareness of how they are perceived.”
Razor brand Gillette made waves in recent weeks with a commercial that directly referenced the #MeToo sexual abuse scandals and challenged “toxic” masculinity.
Meanwhile, some countries are taking action to crack down on ‘sexist’ advertising.
Sweden ruled that an advertising post based on a viral meme of a man staring at another women while walking with his girlfriend unacceptably objectified women.
Britain has said it will ban adverts that include gender stereotypes such as women who can’t park or men who struggle to change a diaper.
(Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Jason Fields. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)