The portrayal of women in advertising and the media

Media and advertising reflects the social norms of our society, and at the same time have the ability to influence our perceptions through how things are portrayed. Looking back at advertising in the 50s and 60s, women were typically represented as mothers and wives, taking care of their family and husband. Fast forward to the 70s and 80s, the depiction of women’s roles was much more diverse, but they were often portrayed as sex symbols or through unrealistic representations of perfection, a trend that continued well into the 90s. 

In more recent times as the prevalence of female leaders in government, politics, athletics and Fortune 500 companies has increased, we have seen a shift in our social norms. Despite this, many feel that advertising still keeps men and women in their traditional gender roles. The controversy that was caused by the social media ad issued by the UK government as part of their COVID-19 comms, that depicted women cleaning, ironing and home-schooling while a man relaxed on a couch is just one example of many.

So, there is much progress to be made on the way women are portrayed in advertising and the media. Brands have a responsibility to represent women in a responsible and accurate manner to promote gender equality.

How the portrayal of women in advertising impacts brand perception

But beyond ethics, can brands benefit from shifting how they portray women in terms of brand perception? According to a recent report carried out by Ipsos, the answer is yes. 

The research carried out by Ipsos found that ads that positively portray women are more likely to positively contribute to the long-term brand relationship as well as short-term behaviour change and that the role and portrayal of women in ads can influence ad evaluation attitudes. It’s worth noting that the study didn’t find any positive correlation between a female character being represented in an ad and ad memorability or brand recall. The impact occurred on the behavioural measure of Choice Intent and Brand Relationship – metrics that increase the likelihood that a brand will be chosen more often and an improved sentiment towards a brand. 

Aside from the fact that women control over $31.8 trillion in worldwide spending, brands not only need to ensure ads speak to women and represent them in a positive and respectful manner, but also to focus on cultivating long-term brand relationships – positively portraying women can help to achieve this.

Brands that have successfully portrayed women in advertising

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign

Dove’s Real Beauty campaign depicted “real women” in its advertising and the impact turned out to be a game changer for both the brand and for society. The campaign resulted in a 62% in Dove products since its launch while also sending a message around body positivity to women of all ages.

Heineken’s Cheers to all campaign

Heineken’s Cheers to all campaign is a good example of an ad that breaks down outdated stereotypes about men and women’s consumption choices by addressing the bias that men drink beer while women drink more “delicate” drinks.

What brands need to do

Brands have a responsibility to help shift our social norms and make a positive contribution to driving gender equality. Aside from this, the study by Ipsos has found that representing females in a more positive way in ads achieves a higher long-term and short-term impact for brands – brands need to consider how they represent women in their ads to achieve strong performance on the behavioural measures of Choice Intent and Brand Relationship.

Want to know more about influencing behaviour with your ads?

If you want to make it easier for your customers to recognise and choose your brand, we’d love to hear from you. We deliver everything from insights, strategy and brand building, to big ideas and tactical execution. Get in touch with us here.