Unilever’s global call for gender justice in advertising - #unstereotype - was at the centre of a conversation on moving away from stereotypical portrayals of gender and delivering fresh campaigns more relevant to today’s consumer, at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Thursday. Aline Santos, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing for Unilever and R Balki, Director & Chairman and CCO at Lowe India participated in it, along with actor Alysia Reiner, Juliana Chugg, Chief Brand Officer at Mattel, and Rosie Arnold, Deputy Executive Creative Director at BBH. The session was moderated by BBC presenter Lucy Hockings.
Introducing the panel to the audience, Keith Weed, Global CMO, Unilever, said, “The time is right for us as an industry to challenge and change how we portray gender in our advertising. Our industry spends billions of dollars annually shaping perceptions and we have a responsibility to use this power in a positive manner. At Unilever we are at the start of a journey, and we are passionate about challenging the stereotypes that are pervasive.” Weed had announced the #unstereotype agenda during his keynote speech at the festival on Wednesday.
Citing the success of the ‘Six Pack Band’ campaign by Mindshare for Hindustan Unilever's Brooke Bond Red Label Tea that fought transgender discrimination and won the Glass Lions Grand Prix at the festival, Santos said, “Transgender is a very controversial topic, so imagine how sensitive this topic could be in India. But we had the courage to come down and launch the campaign, and I cannot tell you how successful the campaign is, and how many reflections it is raising in the country. I am so proud of the team that has been working behind this. This success has to go across everything that we do in terms of creativity.” She added that stereotyping in advertising is a prevalent issue for all genders. However, research shows that the negative effects are most keenly felt when it comes to representations of females. “In fact, 40% of women say they do not identify at all with the women they see in ads. Advertising can be a powerful force in leading positive cultural change. We believe it is our responsibility, alongside the industry, to be at the forefront of this change by positively portraying people as they truly are today,” Santos observed.
Axe’s Find Your Magic has similarly been widely applauded by both consumers and the communications industry for its new positioning which is liberating for people, where genuine connection beats conquest. “Axe will continue to be about attraction, but we are portraying the modern, relevant, genuine world of attraction - the true magic that happens between two equals,” Santos said. She also mentioned ads for the Knorr brand, where traditional gender roles around food have started to blur and cooking has become much more inclusive, she added.
Balki ON Ki and Ka: It’s NOT ABOUT GENDER
Balki spoke about his recent film Ki and Ka, which turns gender stereotyping on its head. “The Hindi language is a funny language where everything has a gender..., a shoe, a chair... everything has a gender. Job, which is ‘naukri’ in Hindi, is a feminine word, while cooking food is a masculine term. So, there is a country where language defines stereotyping, and there is lot of stereotyping going on, and my film was actually based on that. If we look at a couple, a man and a woman, their problems are exactly the same, it’s about the person not the gender. And that’s when I realized that when we show it like I did in Ki and Ka, it doesn’t change anything at all. All the women identify with the man, and all the men identify with the woman, so it’s a fabulous thing. For any ad, if you say that you are talking to your audience, the audience will not see the advertiser. Actually, it’s the idea that’s getting to the people. It’s never the person.”
“The final thing is about the person who earns the money and disrespect to the person who actually makes the home. My film actually reflects the fact that there will always be an issue where there is a financial dependency, be it a man or a woman,” he added. “So how would you sort out this financial dependency problem? Perhaps corporates can give half the paycheck to the man and half to the woman, because keeping house is an equally demanding job.”
Talking of progressive advertising, he said, “As we broaden depictions of people in our advertising, we will broaden creative opportunities; leading to progressive ads that are more enjoyable and generate stronger emotional response. This an exciting proposition that I’d love to see the global marketing community embrace.”
Progressive ads better for brands
Progressive portrayals of gender are proven to not only be better for society, but better for brands. According to Santos, “We have validated through testing with Millward Brown that more progressive advertising generates stronger engagement, talkability and delivers better branded impact. This shows that not only is there an important societal imperative for this change but a business imperative as well; it’s an important journey that we must go on if we want to ensure we are truly maximising the potential of our creative outputs for today’s audiences.”
Unilever plans to advance portrayals of gender in its ads with a special focus on women by addressing three key areas: Role, Personality and Appearance. Roles should more broadly represent aspirations and wider achievements beyond product-related responsibilities. Personalities depicted should shift to become more authentic and three dimensional. Appearance should be presented as enjoyable and non-critical, creating a positive and creative interest in being whoever you want to be.
Mattel’s Juliana Chugg described the shift in advertising for Barbie, from what Barbie is to what Barbie inspires. “It is the most amazing new campaign. We had a 95% positive brand sentiment. Little girls don’t look at Barbie in terms of how she looks; they imagine all the possibilities of what they can become.” Alysia Reiner talked about her soon-to-be released film Equity, which is the first Wall Street film with a female protagonist.
Meanwhile, several of Unilever’s partner agencies have already confirmed that they will be adopting the new approach #unstereotype, including BBH, 72andSunny, JWT, DDB, MullenLowe and Ogilvy, with many more likely to follow suit. “We hope that #unstereotype inspires others in the industry to join us and commit to building brands in a way that puts advertising on the forefront of leading culture with progressive portrayals of everyone,” Santos said.