Unilever's pledge is just the beginning: it's time for us to represent the entirety of human experience

Unilever's pledge is just the beginning: it's time for us to represent the entirety of human experience

Unilever struck a blow for progressive thinking with its decision last week to ditch sexist ads for good. Now we need to make sure it's the start of something bigger, writes Naked Communications' associate creative director.

Gender stereotypes within advertising could be a thing of a past thanks to Unilever’s #Unstereotype pledge. Tropes like "Masterchef mum", "Beer guzzler dad" and my personal favourite – "Hair-flick Holly" – will be no more.

Motivated by morality and good business sense, we’ve also got trolls and transparency to thank. Emboldened keyboard warriors are pressuring the bottom line with every brutal "thumbs down".

Audiences have been patronised for too long and outcry chips away at the frailty of positive public opinion.

The pledge is a well-meaning band-aid placed on a gaping wound. While writing for The Guardian, Cindy Gallop – speaker, entrepreneur and ex-Bartle Bogle Hegarty chairman – bluntly put it best: "At the top of our industry there is a closed loop of white guys, talking to white guys, about other white guys."

Creative Equals and the 3% Conference rally for more gender-diversity in our creative departments. The IPA, too, seeks to redress the imbalance. Worldwide, only around 11% of Creative Directors are women and London fares only a little better at 14%.

Have a flick through the hilarious #TooManyGuysOneGirl tumblr and you’ll laugh incredulously (or weep, your choice). To top it off, Cannes awarding a bronze lion to AlmapBBDO’s controversial Bayer ad points to institutionalised blinkers.

Thankfully, oversights like these are in the minority at awards shows. The 26 Grand Prix winners at Cannes were clever, challenged culture and driven by a higher brand purpose.

But these nuggets are invisible to the average consumer whose best impression of our industry comes from dated, 30-second sitcom-style ads best banished to the shredder.

Better briefs will come in, yes, but better empathy for diverse experiences need to come out. And this goes beyond the gender issues.

There’s mixed results outside the industry. Half of 2015’s blockbusters failed to clear the unbelievably low bar set by the Bechdel Test: the requirement that a film contains at least two female characters, who have at least one conversation about something other than a man.

More immune to traditional studio pressure, it’s no surprise that disruptors like Netflix are leading the way with nuanced representation.

The success of shows like Orange Is The New Black and Master Of None prove that audiences reward respect. These shows normalise inclusion of individuals of all ethnicities, gender identification and sexualities in non-tokenistic ways.

If there’s something we can learn, we can start with showing the full spectrum of the human experience.

It’s painful to think that doing so is challenging popular convention, but we’ve all seen the plaudits for those that dare to do so. Pot Noodle’s "You can make it" and Campbell’s Soup’s "#RealRealLife" (pictured) won the hearts of a cynical generation.

Within the fashion industry barriers are continually being broken too. Jaden Smith was announced as the face of Louis Vuitton's SS16 womenswear and & Other Stories sweetly used a lesbian couple in their Valentine’s Day campaign.

The key, really, is to normalise inclusivity in everyday contexts. It shouldn’t be limited to public service announcements like Ad Council’s "Love has no label" or "How do you see me" for Down's Syndrome Day.

Unilever’s pledge should expand outside of gender stereotyping and into broader diversity. Then, agency cultures need to proudly change alongside it.

Catherine Hope is associate creative director at Naked Communications

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