Why your creative must be respective of gender

Gender is a sensitive topic – one that society is renegotiating across social, cultural, political and commercial spheres. Definitions of gender have progressed, and within the marketing industry, high profile initiatives such as the Unstereotype Alliance and Gender Equality Measure have been established to work to eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes. There are varying levels of action by brands, yet our research finds many have not kept pace with change. However, there are some examples of best practice that shine through.

Kantar’s 2019 “Winning With Women” research explores how financial institutions can build trust and empower confidence with women across Southeast Asia. At a summit with the financial services industry, Diageo’s marketing and innovations director Neil Skinner provided a powerful cross-sector insight about how and why the Smirnoff brand supports diversity in dance music.

Despite my personal involvement with house music for the past 25 years, I had never really given much thought to how much every DJ-set and festival line-up favours male DJs and artists – that’s until I saw Annie Mac’s face on Smirnoff’s “Equalising Music” campaign. I guess sometimes you need it “in your face” to make you realise the obvious.

Inclusive communication insights are paramount and I took that “in-your-face” approach by playing current financial services commercials that reveal the starkly apparent trend of non-inclusive creative. Facial coding techniques measured how men and women experience advertising in different ways and the results were intriguing. One attendee (a female marketing director at an investment bank) confessed, “After having seen these, I feel horrible about what ads we’ve been putting out there for the past few years.”

Distinct lack of screened and validated creative despite gender equality progression

Based on eight currently-aired ads tested from Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, there are three common pitfalls clearly identified within financial services advertising across Southeast Asia – pitfalls that all sectors can learn from.

1. Stereotyping

It exists – a lot, especially when it comes to gender roles in the household – and women are completely disengaged with brands that stereotype family roles in their advertising. One particular ad tested showed mum holding the shopping basket with her husband proudly producing his credit card and making the payment. It performed very weakly among its female audience with little potential to positively impact the brand in-market.

And although you would say that intuitively this all makes sense, Kantar’s 2019 AdReaction study reveals that globally 77% of women feel the way they are represented in advertising is completely out of touch. Having said that, it is encouraging for us to know that the ads that portray women in a more progressive way tend to be more successful overall.

2. Using humour to cover (up) sensitive topics

Another ad we reviewed addresses ageing and preparing for retirement and used a not-so-old looking female protagonist addressed as “auntie”. Male viewers didn’t engage with the creative at all, while females showed signs of disgust every time the “a-word’” was used. It ultimately performed significantly weaker among females  for whom it was primarily intended!

Yet, it’s not all bad. There are examples of ads, such as the one from Thailand’s Krungsri Bank titled “Bestfriend”, males and females both having fun in a much more playful and positive manner. This approach makes advertising better at generating short-term sales and long-term brand equity.

3. Focusing on females doesn’t have to alienate your male customers

There were plenty of comments from marketers stating they are reluctant to make ads designed for women because of concerns they would alienate their core male audience. However, when we tested ads featuring a female protagonist, this didn’t happen at all. Female-focused advertising can still positively impact a male audience.

For example, an ad for Siam Commercial Bank uses a female celebrity to promote a credit card geared to women. Even though women engage more as intended, it still performs well among males.

It’s time for us all to think and do better with our creative

After my run-in with Smirnoff’s “Equalising Music” campaign, I have pledged to actively include more music from female producers in my upcoming DJ-sets. Equally, I am looking forward to the progression from our financial services marketers – and indeed the wider creative industry – to drive better gender representation in their advertising and brand campaigns. You will definitely avoid these three pitfalls going forward, won’t you?

The writer is Marc L’Amie, creative domain leader at Kantar’s Insights Division in Singapore.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)