Dylan Bogg of the Mission Marketing Group recently wrote an excellent contribution for b2bmarketing.net titled “Time’s up: 2019 is the year to bring gender equality in marketing.” He urged marketers to fight inequality “both as employers and as creators of messaging on behalf of our clients.”
He’s absolutely right, of course. Indeed you’d think that, as people supposedly hyper-aware of current trends and public perceptions, marketers would have realised this long ago. Moreover, they should have provided a lead for other industries to follow in setting things right.
So why does ridiculous gender stereotyping still exist in advertising and marketing?
Setting standards for advertisers
Ella Smillie of the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) commented that “The evidence we published last year showed that harmful gender stereotypes in ads contribute to how people see themselves and their role in society.”
The evidence was collected by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and has led to a new rule to combat stereotyping to be introduced into the Advertising Codes. This is to be effective as from 14th June 2019.
Guidance to advertisers published by the CAP identifies several stereotyping examples, some of which take you back to the kind of concepts that should have been left behind in the last century, such as:
“An ad that depicts a man with his feet up and family members creating mess around a home while a woman is solely responsible for cleaning up the mess.”
Catching a cold or being razor sharp
It would be a shame to take humour out of advertising and “battle of the sexes” themes can often raise a smile when skilfully handled. The Boots “Man Flu” campaign may have had this in mind, but many people complained about how the male and female characters were portrayed. They didn’t find it funny in the least and neither did we. This campaign is embarrassingly low in quality and the concept makes us cringe.
Whether this kind of stereotyping is truly “harmful” is debatable. It is more likely to cause irritation and therefore have a negative impact on the brand concerned. However, advertising or marketing content based on stereotypes and prolonging outmoded attitudes is, in our view, very counterproductive and insults the intelligence.
By contrast, as we declared in a recent article on our website, the Gillette ad that seeks to put a stop to the widely accepted “boys will be boys” stereotype is an excellent example of how brands can take a lead in building positive perceptions and values. This is not politically correct virtue signalling, it is imaginative and thoughtful brand messaging at its best. The fact that Piers Morgan saw fit to rant against it makes the ad all the more praiseworthy!
Making unwelcome assumptions
Whenever written content is produced for either consumer or B2B consumption, it needs to be rigorously checked, not only for factual accuracy, style and grammar but also for issues such as stereotyping assumptions. These may be unintended, but their effect can be to devalue the content in its entirety.
We were therefore astounded to find appalling gaffes (which we have underlined) in an online article for Business Matters Magazine relating to B2B marketing trends.
- In a section on video marketing, there is the sentence: “The decision maker in a company would love a video as he gets all the information he may need without wasting his time pouring through online web pages.”
- Then, when dealing with big data management, we come across: “Ask any marketer worthy of the tag to pinpoint the single biggest challenge and opportunity that he’s likely to handle, and one in three will say it’s personalization.”
There was a time when “he” or “his” could be accepted as gender neutral, but this has not been the case for many years. There are numerous options that copywriters can use to make their text equally applicable to men or women without resorting to clunky expressions such as “he or she” (which in any case puts the female in second place, which rather defeats the object).
Furthermore, while these errors in the Business Matters article may have been made through inattention to detail, what makes them particularly unacceptable is the context.
- The first assumes that the “decision maker” will be a man
- The second implies that every marketer “worthy of the tag” will also be male.
Ergo, important professional positions are bound to be occupied by chaps!
Well, we all make mistakes and to err is human. However, if one of our copywriting team at BBI Brandboost made this kind of fundamental gender stereotyping blunder, then we would severely question their professionalism. However, we can also be one hundred percent certain that none of them ever would.
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