Over the weekend, gender equality advocacy group AWARE called out the People's Action Party (PAP) for using domestic abuse as an analogy when addressing the 10 million population issue that politician Chee Soon Juan brought up. Chee had erroneously said the PAP had plans to increase Singapore's population to 10 million, and did not apologise when the claim was disputed. The PAP had then issued a press release which said: "A simple analogy will explain Chee’s mendacity. Imagine this. Chee claims you said you want to beat up your spouse. You deny it, and show proof that you neither said this nor have beaten your spouse. Instead of apologising, Chee says: 'Victory! I extracted a promise from you that you will never beat your spouse'."
In response, AWARE, in a Facebook post, called for political candidates to be mindful and responsible in their communications throughout this election. "We worry that an authoritative public body equating allegations of domestic violence with erroneous or misinterpreted statements may have an unintended consequence: reinforcing the myth that false allegations of abuse are common."
AWARE over the years championed causes such as women's rights and gender equality. In collaboration with R3, it has recently unveiled a whitepaper, which showed how advertising has been slow to communicate the change in female roles and responsibilities. According to the report covering advertising in Singapore, the report highlighted that women in leadership and decision-making positions are not being portrayed frequently enough in advertisements. While brands have started depicting women in professional capacities, almost a quarter of the ads that were reviewed had a storyline that involved a "teacher-student" or a "rescuer-victim" narrative. Among these ads, 69% feature a male in the role of the teacher or rescuer.
Additionally, many brands continue to show women in singular roles of mother, wife, and caregiver, the report said. There are missed opportunities for brands to set themselves apart by portraying women in environments outside of the home. The report cited a study by Nielsen in 2019 that showed on average, 88% of women in Asia Pacific share or have primary responsibility for daily shopping, household chores and food preparation. As a result, women carry this “invisible workload” and have less time to meet them. This makes women one of the largest audiences for convenience-led technologies, products and services. However, brands still tend to focus on women’s roles as primarily in the household capacity and use male leads to communicate technology products.
On the positive side, the report also noted an increase in brands which opted to use "real people" as spokespersons, instead of relying on professional models who endow popular and mainstream standards of beauty. R3 and AWARE's report highlighted three ways in which advertisers can have better representation of gender equality:
1. Encourage agency partners to increase diversity quotient
Advertisers should provide support women in creative industries. A study done by Creative Equals (UK, 2019), revealed that women accounted for only 12% of creative directors, which is often among the most highly paid roles in an agency. The same study also bought to light the lack of mentorship available to female employees as only 25% of women have a female line manager.
The report highlighted Diageo, which is a sponsor of the Creative Equals "Returners" scheme that is designed to support women in the creative industries in the UK as they return to work after a career break of at least 12 months. The ultimate aim is to place female art directors, producers, copywriters, data analysts, designers and concept creators back into work. Diageo committed to briefing work to the group of returners for two of its global brands, Baileys and Guinness. They also developed a playbook for its agencies to ensure that their agency teams provide a fair presentation to female creatives.
2. Give women the opportunity to see themselves as your customers
Women’s income contributes to median monthly household incomes of SG$7,076 (Nielsen, 2019). With this rise in affluence, women inform aspects of their family purchasing decisions. They also tend to be more concerned about having a reputation for making good decisions and are inclined towards research before making major purchases to stay informed.
To engage with this demographic emotionally, brands should consider how often this audience has the opportunity to see themselves accurately reflected in company advertising. This could include body and beauty portrayals as well as depiction of women in roles that break common domestic stereotypes.
3. Consider the ambitions and aspirations of the next generation
Brands need to make more effort to mirror the reality of women in Singapore. This help them reach out to a larger target audience and also stand out from competition that may still be stuck in portraying traditional stereotypes in their advertising.
A PWC survey in 2015 revealed that 31% of female Singapore Millennials starting their careers believe they can reach the very top levels with their current employer. 91% of female Millennials in a relationship are part of a dual-career couple. While 66% of respondents globally earn the same or more than their partner or spouse, the number is 69% in Singapore.
The female Millennial consumer thinks and behaves differently from previous generations when it comes to brands and their purchase decisions. In order to fortify engagement and gain more business from younger female audiences, brands also need to act differently, the report said.
With that in mind, here are the top 10 ads that R3 and AWARE found represented gender equality and ran in Singapore:
1. Vaseline: Visible Scars, Invisible Strength: Lady Without Fingerprints
2. Apple: Behind The Mac — International Women’s Day
3. Apple: Chinese New Year | Shot on iPhone 11 Pro — Daughter
4. Singtel: In Return: Interview with Shaza Ishak
5. Singtel: GOMO feat. Preetipls
6. FWD: Cancer Insurance - My Girlfriend’s Such a Fighter
7. StarHub: #WeWillGetThere
8. UOB: Black Belt
9. Dove: Rachel’s Story: Living with Eczema
10. McDonald's: McDelivery Day
Did your favourite ad make it to the list? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org!
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