Unilever cracks down on ad stereotypes with 'real structural changes'

Unilever is broadening its 2016 commitment to Unstereotype with "Act 2 Unstereotype". Its latest initiative seeks to make real, structural changes to the entire marketing process and provoke and integrate more diverse and inclusive thinking across every brand, from advertising production to new product development.

Among the list of actions Unilever will take to help achieve "Act 2 Unstereotype" include provoking inclusive thinking across the end-to-end marketing process from consumer insight, brand DNA and proposition, marketing mix development, creative development, behind the camera and on-screen portrayals. Unilever will also ensure an Unstereotype Charter for every Unilever brand, outlining the diversity, equity and inclusion commitments the brand will deliver through its marketing.

It will also work with more diverse and under-represented groups on screen and behind the camera. At the same time, the brand will also work to eradicate any digital alterations to photography. This means a total ban on changing models’ body shape, size, proportion or skin colour.

"Act 2 Unstereotype" came about after its research with Kantar found that nearly one in two individuals from marginalised communities - Asian, Black, Hispanic, LGBTQ+ people and those with disabilities - feel they have been stereotyped in some way through advertising. Under-represented communities were also found to be impacted the most, and are up to 30% more likely to be stereotyped than the general population, the research which surveyed 1,500 UK and US adults online said.

The research said 55% of women of Asian heritage believe that stereotypes in advertising do not represent them, while 46% of men with a disability say they often see negative portrayals of people like them in ads.

Also, 66% of LGBTQ+ individuals aged 18 to 34 believe people from diverse backgrounds feature in ads "just to make up the numbers", Unilever's research said. Majority of respondents (71%) believe stereotypes in media are harming the younger generation.

According to Unilever, the results show that advertising is the latest industry being called upon to step up or risk having their products and services boycotted. Additionally, respondents are increasingly disconnected from advertising today, as less than one in five believe that ads are representative of wider society. Unilever said this response fuels concerns that advertising "could consign itself to history" if the industry does not rebuild its image and help build a better world.

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According to Unilever, 98% of its global advertising last year was unstereotypical and 60% of the ads were strongly progressive. It also claimed that its advertising outperformed the industry norm by 1.2 times on unstereotyping last year. Also, Unilever said its ad production roster has more than 3,000 females from over 60 countries and by 2025, it will have 5% of its workforce represented by persons with disability.

The company has always shown its support for diversity and inclusion in its advertising and marketing initiatives. In March this year, Dove launched its "It's On Us" initiative in South Africa which "infiltrated" international casting calls with real beauty models from Project #ShowUs. Under this initiative, the brand said it will pay other brands to diversify talents in their ads in an attempt to encourage inclusion.

Other diversity and inclusion initiaitves Dove has undertaken included Dove Real Beauty Sketches and turning its iconic bottle into different shapes and sizes to encourage women to love their bodies. Meanwhile, Unilever also said in March that it will eliminate the word "normal" from all of its beauty and personal care brands' packaging and advertising, s part of its new Positive Beauty vision and strategy. The FMCG company also renamed its Fair & Lovely brand to Glow & Lovely last year after being criticised for playing up insecurities in skin tones and promoting negative stereotypes. The men's range of Fair & Lovely was also renamed Glow & Handsome.

Photo courtesy: 123RF

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