How can advertising drive gender equality?

Progressive and inclusive advertising offers brands more than just the fulfilment of being more socially and morally responsible: our data shows that when it’s done well, it’s also great for business and marketing ROI.
07 March 2023
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EVP Global Thought Leadership, Kantar

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Marketers have a lot on their shoulders; pricing and supply chain challenges, driving margin, media fragmentation and digital disruption all around. Then there’s the pressure, or even the requirement, to embed social purpose and diversity and inclusion throughout their business. And in the manifestation of this strategy, they need to ensure that their advertising at the very least reflects the world around us, or even progresses it. The UK’s Advertising Standards Association even revised its advertising code a few years ago to have the ability to rule against gender stereotyping.

To mark International Women’s Day 2023 and the call to #EmbraceEquity, we explore our ad testing database to look at how progressive advertising to women is.

A woman’s world

Women had a difficult time during COVID-19 – more women lost jobs, had to give up income, or handled home education while continuing to work. And with the current cost of living crisis, Kantar’s Global Issues Barometer shows that women are more susceptible to the implications of recession and inflation, and also felt a lower sense of wellbeing.

“With great power comes great responsibility”, said Voltaire (and Spiderman’s uncle). Marketers should recognise they have huge power, in the form of their media investment dollars, giving exposure and airtime to their messages, seeking to influence attitudes and behaviours. They have a responsibility to do the right thing for their brand, but also to consider many other factors in their communications strategy, including how gender roles are represented.

Response to advertising

When we look at our Link ad testing database of over 250,000 ads to see how men and women watching the same ad respond, globally we see very little difference in the various elements that are enjoyed. The few significant differences we did see at a global level showed the ads that women enjoyed most contain more emotional messaging (+3%), music that was well known (+3%) and connected to the brand (+2%). In terms of content, there were more ads with children (+5%), slice-of-life advertising (+3%) and holiday ads (+2%).

With regards to characters in ads, women enjoyed ads most that feature caring characters (male +3% and female +3%), females with diverse body types (+2%), and men in non-traditional roles (+2%) as well as a greater use of ads featuring people with disabilities (+2%). Among the ads that men enjoy compared to women we saw higher numbers of ads with rational messages (+3%) and more use of continuous voiceovers (+2%) and ads with promotions (+2%).

Regionally, North America and Europe show similar patterns between the genders to those we see at a global level, whereas Latin America and Asia Pacific show very few differences between men and women.

Differences in advertising between men and women

Chart showing differences in advertising between men and womenMedia planning also has a role to play in driving gender equality. It’s still mostly women who are targeted with personal care and childcare products, even though men also buy these things. And automotive advertising still largely targets men.

As with creative preferences, we see little difference in which platforms women prefer to see advertising on. Our Media Reactions study shows the top five preferred media channels for women are traditionally offline channels, just like men.

There are some differences. Cinema is the most preferred media channel for women, while it is fourth among men. One of the reasons for the difference is that women consider cinema ads less intrusive than men. They also feel more negatively towards advertising on gaming channels.

Driving change

I looked at our global Link data about advertising in the automotive sector, until fairly recently the last bastion of old-school behaviour. It’s not that long ago that scantily clad women were draped over car bonnets at automotive shows, presumably to attract the attention of the mostly male audience. Whatever way you look at that now, it’s shameful.

In fact, our database of global automotive ads shows that ads that dare to feature women in empowered roles have greater brand impact. Females with strong personalities and who are funny make automotive advertising more effective. Women are still few and far between in automotive ads in these roles, so there’s work to be done here.

We see some great examples of ads tackling gender diversity or challenging gender stereotypes. Heineken’s “Cheers to all”, our Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards winner for TV in 2021, addresses gender-related drinks stereotypes in a way that is light-hearted rather than preachy or self-righteous, and for that reason is loved by viewers.

Heineken, Cheers to All


Empowering women

When brands get the messaging right it can be truly empowering and even life-changing for women. For our recent webinar, Harness the power of emotion in digital advertising, we tested several ads using Link and Facial Coding, to look at how people responded emotionally. This Kotex Lea Campos ad is a great example of powerful storytelling. Tested amongst women, it performed in the top 10% of the database on contribution to brand equity, top 1% for impact on brand affinity and in the top 25% in terms of emotional engagement as measured by expressiveness and in the top 5% in enjoyment.

Kotex, Lea Campos


5 imperatives for progressive marketers

Based on our analysis and work with clients around the world, here’s our advice for inclusive and effective advertising to women…

1. Keep it real

As in all matters D&I, we know that being authentic helps. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. It doesn’t need to scream ‘LOOK I AM A WOMAN IN A NON-STEREOTYPED ROLE’; it can be a natural part of communications.

2. Consider humour

Emotion enhances the brand impact of all advertising, including digital. We also know that humour is effective in advertising, that it’s underused, and that women particularly enjoy humour in advertising. And there are many types of humour from belly-laugh to something that raises a wry smile.

3. Avoid stereotypes

Here, marketers need to work on solid insights. In our Link creative testing, we measure whether people think the ad has progressive gender portrayals, so we can tell advertisers what works, and what impact this has on their brand.

4. Technology can help

If you use AI, make sure it’s trained on a big high-quality dataset. Kantar’s AI creative testing solutions provide results in as few as 15 minutes and are trained on over 250,000 ads in all categories from all over the world.

5. Getting your creative right drives profit

Our recent analysis of Kantar’s Link data with WARC’s effectiveness database proves that high-quality creative drives 4x profit (ROMI). So get all the ingredients right, test your creative properly, and your advertising will be truly effective.

We are excited to bring you more great examples of how to get gender right in advertising for our Kantar Creative Effectiveness Awards launching on Tuesday 18 April. Watch this space for more insights into progressive advertising that appeals to women and getting inclusion and diversity right in your campaigns.

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