Brand Development / Latest News / July 26, 2017

The Gender Stereotype Debate – A Creative Director’s View

Gender Stereotyping within Advertising

I am intrigued by the recent ASA proposal to crack down on gender stereotyping in advertising. I’m of the opinion that a law that protects people from messaging that hinder’s their growth or personal progress is a good thing. But is this feasible? Measurable? Enforceable? I am interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

In my opinion, the expectation for advertising to change the way society behaves is too ambitious – as advertising, specifically the type of advertising in question, is more of a mirror of the society it operates in.

I cannot help but think that this will have a massive impact on marketing in the UK. For one the bureaucratic nightmare of red tape it will add to the approval process – a process already convoluted with racial and sexual sensitivities and political correctness. Brands now will simply feel ‘damned if they do and damned if they don’t’. Where even the best intentions in the telling of their brand stories will be deliberately dissected, over-analysed and berated online in social media backlashes and legal penalties.

But where does it end? Or maybe – where should it start? Don’t get me wrong, I want my children to grow up in a world that does not restrain their vast untapped potential or affect their confidence in any endeavour they choose to embark upon. I do think that the points being raised are incredibly important and need addressing but expecting advertising to do the heavy lifting is a tad ambitious. As a marketer I understand my role in the messages I put out into the world – as am I aware the role being a parent plays in the nurturing of young minds and have always believed the responsibility lay with me – not with a TV ad designed to create an appetite for something you weren’t aware you needed.

Advertising is not easy. Films have the luxury of time to develop characters, moods, themes and plot lines where TV commercials sometimes are forced to rely heavily on preconception to deliver a concise, memorable brand message in a 30 second or 1-minute instalment.

I don’t believe the purported gender stereotyping is done maliciously but simply that it can get across quite complex scenarios without adding more questions to steal the storyline’s ‘thunder’. The casting of characters is an art in itself – finding a ‘hero’ or the foil or protagonist your targeted demographic will identify with, and instantaneously draw an opinion on, needs stereotypical behaviours due to the brevity of the format.

I have always been a fan of brave advertising. Advertising always offers a snapshot of societal norms and popular culture to ensure your ad is understood and gains traction. Having evaluated advertising from around the planet for the last 20 years I wish the ASA and the various lobby groups could see just how mature and advanced the UK advertising industry is in the exploration of themes that other countries around the world wouldn’t dare attempt. And to me, that is so encouraging and exciting. But to take a process that is slowly moving in the right direction and force an agenda will most likely meet with rejection from the viewer and a drop-off in the likeability of the ads.

But maybe things need to break before they change? Really interested to hear your views on this as I do believe it will be a major topic in advertising circles for some time to come.

Written by Matt Rowland