Procter & Gamble’s Tide ad during last year’s Super Bowl played off spots for other P&G brands, including Old Spice. Gender targeting in laundry and household cleaner ads became more balanced the last two years, according to research company Kantar. PHOTO: PROCTER & GAMBLE
Some marketers are starting to edge away from dated gender-based strategies—such as exclusively targeting household cleaning products at women, or entirely overlooking men who buy diapers—but others haven’t changed at all, according to a study due to be published this week.
Research company Kantar found that brands in categories including food and drink adopted modestly more balanced gender targeting for their ads between 2010 and 2018, while the laundry and household cleaner segments saw more recent changes between 2017 and 2018. Categories including auto haven’t seen significant changes in recent years, according to Kantar.
The global study looked for shifts through the lens of the ad tests that it performs for marketers, in which brands ask it to interview or survey men and women in certain proportions. The desired gender splits in the tests are a good stand-in for advertisers’ target audiences for the ads, according to Kantar.
The company analyzed more than 18,000 ad tests across six marketing categories that it carried out in more than 40 countries between 2010 and 2018.
Brands testing ads within the baby products, laundry products and household cleaner categories asked Kantar to look at an almost entirely female target audience, 98% on average, from 2010 to 2018. On the other side of the scale, women made up just 29% of the sample when motor oil brands were testing their ads. The small shifts that have occurred recently, as in household cleaning, may have been spurred in part by broader industry initiatives to change marketers’ thinking around gender, according to Duncan Southgate, global brand director for media in Kantar’s insights division.
Unilever and UN Women, a United Nations group that seeks to empower women, formed the Unstereotype Alliance in 2017, for example, to fight gender stereotypes in advertising and improve the gender balance in senior marketing leadership and creative roles. Members include Procter & Gamble Co. , Johnson & Johnson , Diageo PLC, Google, Mars Inc. and Kantar parent company WPP PLC. Free the Bid, another effort, encourages brands and agencies to consider female directors for their commercials.
Changing consumer behavior also is forcing marketers to rethink their strategies. Most household buying decisions are now made by both men and women: 85% of women and 68% of men considered themselves the main grocery buyer in 2017, according to a Kantar survey.
And the cultural conversation about gender has only become more prominent in recent years. “The #MeToo movement, among other things, has put a spotlight on gender equality in society at large, and that’s healthy,” said Kantar’s Mr. Southgate.
Unilever CMO Keith Weed said greater gender representation in advertising is “an economic issue, not just a moral issue.”
The consumer-goods giant conducted research in 2017 and 2018 that found making progress in this area improved purchase intent by 18% and improved consumers’ view of a brand’s credibility by 21%. Unilever also has broadened its targeting by gender and age, Mr. Weed said.
Spirits giant Diageo last year reviewed its creative work around the world to see where it needed to change the way it portrayed gender. It drew up a framework of four areas to consider, such as the way marketing characterizes gender, and is training its 1,200 marketers and its agencies to apply it to their work. Diageo has shared the framework with other companies.
“We just hope people will put their heads above the parapet and see that the risks are mostly in their heads,” said Diageo Chief Marketing Officer Syl Saller.
The U.K.’s ad regulator is applying pressure as well. Starting in June, the U.K. will ban ads with gender stereotypes “that are likely to cause harm, or serious or widespread offense,” such as an ad that shows a woman struggling to park a car or a man being teased for performing stereotypically “female” tasks.
The majority of global marketers believe they are avoiding gender bias in their ads already, according to a survey of 468 marketing leaders across brands, agencies and media computers conducted by Kantar last year. Just over three-quarters of female marketers polled by Kantar last year said they were very or somewhat confident they were creating ads that avoid gender stereotypes, compared with 88% of male marketers who answered the same.
“If you haven’t scored a huge PR own-goal maybe you think things must be OK,” said Mr. Southgate. But marketers may be grading their work more leniently than consumers, he said.
“Almost half of the consumers we speak to don’t think the portrayals are appropriate.”