Marketers, we’re getting gender all wrong. While women control $40 trillion of consumer spend, 76% of female consumers and 71% of male consumers believe the way advertising portrays them is completely out of touch.
With the steady increase of socially conscious consumers, companies must approach gender portrayals in a multifaceted and accurate manner to maintain customer loyalty. It’s no secret that brands catering to diverse audiences earn more customer spend than those that ignore large segments of the population; gender-balanced brands, for example, are worth $20.6B, female-skewed brands $16.1B, and those that cater exclusively to men, $11.5B.
Use the following strategies to feature gendered ads in a way that connects with your customers.
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48% of consumers want brands to take a stand on gender equality; use your ads to shine a spotlight on these issues. This strategy can help inspire engagement, intrigue, and brand loyalty, but it’s also easy to get it wrong. A few tips:
- Identify key issues impacting both men and women that connect to your brand’s core values, and explore where your brand can make an impact.
- Use positive language and tones to challenge damaging rhetoric about gender to motivate change. Avoid exploiting the issue just to sell your product—and ensure your company has non-biased gender equality policies in place before advocating for equal pay or gender-balanced opportunities.
- Challenge the status quo while encouraging your audience to become the best versions of themselves—whatever that may look like for them.
Before using this strategy, evaluate your previous stance on gender equality. If you’re new to championing social/political causes, take things slow to avoid backlash. Begin by understanding your target market and practice cultural sensitivity to deliver an effective ad with a strong stance.
Portray Gender Progressively
72% of consumers feel that advertising doesn’t represent the world around them, but ads that consumers deem progressive drive 28% uplift in purchase intent and are 35% more enjoyable. Here’s how to produce advertisements that reflect today’s world.
- Create ads that celebrate individuality and champion ‘untraditionally masculine’ behaviors. Carry out surveys and studies to understand issues facing your male audience and work with experts to build the right strategy for conveying your message. Dollar Shave’s funny Get Ready Campaign was based on customer survey responses.
- Include minorities in your ads to reflect the population, featuring different accents, languages, and religions. To avoid tokenism, explore a wide variety of individual stories.
- Consumers today are less interested in overtly sexualized gender advertising. To discern whether your ads objectify a portion of the population, advertising agency founder Madonna Badger suggests using the following criteria:
- Does the woman have a choice or voice in this situation?
- Is she reduced to just a sexually provocative body part?
- Would you be comfortable seeing yourself in the image?
- Is the image manipulated to the extent that the look is not humanly achievable?
Keep Humanity as your Focus
Engage your audience by developing ads that appeal to more than one gender. Instead of focusing on outdated storylines and over-generalizations, opt for inclusive themes. A few suggestions:
- Humor improves ad receptivity with genders more than any other ad characteristic. Stay mindful of avoiding hurtful stereotypes and monitor responses to your ads to gauge which types of humor are hitting the mark.
- 48% of men and women feel more loyal toward brands with gender-positive messaging. Show empowering scenarios with people of all genders and focus on portraying people as diverse, unique, and multifaceted.
Rid your Marketing of Tired Stereotypes
64% of consumers think advertisers need to do more to eliminate traditional or old-fashioned gender roles and ideals. Below are some outdated, over-simplistic assumptions to avoid:
- The Housewife Role: Use authoritative female characters in your ads and represent achievements beyond product-related responsibilities such as taking care of the home. When using females in your storytelling, choose characters that are strong and nurturing, powerful and supportive, dynamic and calm. In other words, treat them as humans, not one-dimensional characters.
- The Perfect Life: As much as possible, represent your audience in your ads and promote attainable lifestyles or images that inspire your audience. Be realistic and resist labeling only extravagance as ‘the perfect lifestyle.’
Walk Your Talk
Consumers can easily detect when representation and gender diversity attempts are driven by profit rather than a sincere desire for social change. Here’s how to prove you’re not paying lip service to gender issues:
- Hire a diverse internal creative team to help you uncover stereotypes during the development process and create a more powerful message that will resonate with your target audience.
- Consumers want to see a real commitment that goes beyond a single message on a particular day. Invest time and resources into supporting your cause to gain momentum and solidify your brand as an advocate to the cause. Reaffirm your mission across all touchpoints and plan social change initiatives that consumers can take part in.
- Earn your certification from The Global Business Certification Standard of Gender Equality (EDGE) to show your commitment to achieving gender diversity in the workplace.
When portraying gender, acknowledge intersectional identities by considering gender in relation to sexual orientation, religion, age, ethnicity, or race. Stick to sharing individual stories that celebrate diversity to avoid generalization. Lastly, to increase your campaign’s effectiveness, look toward consumers to understand the best way to accurately depict their reality.
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