Interesting or unusual? Women in media

With the Cannes Lions Festival beyond us now, it might be worth taking a retrospective look of a different kind. A recent analysis of winning and shortlisted Cannes Lions commercials has revealed how little has changed in a decade when it comes to gender equality and representation in media.

The research* has brought to light that women account for only just over a third of characters in adverts (37%) – a figure that has seen little change since a decade ago when it stood at 33%. The study also shows that men are seven times more likely to speak in an advert and they get four times as much screen time compared to women.

Twyman’s Law famously says that if a statistic looks interesting or unusual it’s probably wrong. But, interesting as it is to get some figures on the issue of gender in media, the findings are probably not that unusual or surprising, even among media and marketing professionals. And it’s not that the industry itself is oblivious to the issue. There is a real drive for change and better gender balance – look at such initiatives as Omniwomen to promote women leadership or the recent partnership from UN Women and Unilever, Unstereotype, to tackle gender stereotyping in advertising and brand communications.

As this top level change is taking place, there are more immediate smaller-scale steps brand and marketing professionals might think about: with over 60% of main shoppers being women (TGI 2017) – another figure that has seen little change in a decade – brands that are seen as misrepresenting females in their communications risk ostracising the very audience they want to reach. Two in three women already claim to switch TV if they feel women are negatively stereotyped. If the reaction towards TV is so strong, presumably it might be even stronger towards advertising and potentially lead to negative brand perception and weakened purchase intent. More importantly, it will only continue to re-enforce the stereotypes that we try to eliminate.

But perhaps I should consider myself lucky being a woman who lives in Western Europe and works in the industry that has started recognising the need for change. After all, there are still some countries where it would take roughly 10 generations (356 years) to see equality between women and men (World Economic Forum), and where the gender issue is not even widely talked about, let alone gender representation in media:

Economic gender gap

*The research was conducted by the Gena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and J. Walter Thompson through advanced computer automation looking at over 2,000 Cannes Lions entries from 2006 to 2016


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