Advertising, Gender Stereotypes, and Our Responsibility

This week, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)—the UK’s regulator of advertising—launched an effort to crack down on ads that, through gender stereotyping, “might be potentially harmful to people.”

It’s no secret that some of the ads we see every day display gender stereotypes. Think about it: How often do you see a commercial that shows a woman responsible for cleaning up her husband or children’s mess, or a man trying and failing to conduct simple parental or household tasks?

While we’re not here to take a stance on regulation, it got us thinking about what we can learn from the ASA’s decision. Here are our four takeaways:

1 Challenge yourself and your teams to do great work.

It’s thought-provoking conversations like these that put into perspective the amount of responsibility we have as advertisers. Ads should influence people, change minds, stimulate passions, encourage healthy discussion, and develop brand affinity. We must remind ourselves daily of this great privilege we have as advertisers. Challenge yourself and your team to help ensure your work—your ads—take this responsibility seriously.

2 Break through the noise.

How many ads do we see each day—on TV, the internet, cell phones, city buses? In challenging ourselves to do great work, the goal is to break through all of the noise bombarding us throughout our day. Ads should be thought-provoking and stop consumers in their tracks. We want the consumer to keep thinking about our ad minutes, hours, and days after they’ve seen it. We want the consumer to talk about this ad with colleagues and friends—to encourage that healthy discussion mentioned above. When you’re considering creative, ask yourself: Will this concept break through the noise?

3 Ask questions.

At an agency, when we present creative to a client, we like to come with 3-5 options. That means, however, that we’ve likely culled that down out of anywhere from 10-25 other options. When your team is reviewing your options, ask each other questions. How does this align with our goals? How will this be perceived—by the client and by consumers? Does this speak to our target audiences? Have we gender stereotyped? Have we missed the mark? Which leads us to …

4 Make sure you’re aligned with the creative brief and brand.

The creative (or strategy) brief is a list of questions that includes:

  • What’s the business problem we need to solve?
  • What’s the key message?
  • Why is the key message important to communicate?
  • Who needs to hear it?

The brief is the first document we create with a client. To us, it’s a requirement to create any form of efficient and effective communication. All communications and advertising should align back to the brief. So, when you’re reviewing concepts and selecting the final concept, always ensure it aligns back to the original, agreed-upon brief.

For us, this isn’t necessarily a conversation solely about gender stereotypes. It’s a conversation about the responsibility we have as advertisers, and marketers, and communicators. Let’s continue to take that responsibility seriously as we push each other to create great work. Work that matters.