Speaking at the 3% conference in London last week Caitlin Ryan, group executive director at Karmarama, asked if the industry had in fact "come a long way baby". She declared that despite phenomenal change, the industry still has a way to go in tackling sexist and outdated advertising.
With this in mind here are five key takeouts from her talk:
Ditch the stereotypes
While it might seem obvious that stereotypes are well past their sell-by date Ryan pointed to data showing that 85% of women don't recognise themselves in advertising. She explains: "We rely on stereotypes as we have such a short amount of time to get our message across. When you look at women in advertising, they are often portrayed in the domestic sphere; it’s a limited palette." A limited palette which has a limited impact on its intended audience.
Beware of the backlash
We rely on stereotypes as we have such a short amount of time to get our message across. When you look at women in advertising, they are often portrayed in the domestic sphere; it’s a limited palette
Brands that miss the mark with targeting women are increasingly paying a high price for their mistakes. "In the digital age women now have a very powerful way of saying ‘Fuck You’ to advertising that doesn't reflect their feelings, " explains Ryan. Pointing to the backlash of the Outdoor Advertising Association's infamous "Career women make bad mothers" advert, she warned that it is all too easy for brands to find themselves in a terrifying storm. "By not thinking of the consequences of what they were doing they underestimated the strength of feelings," she explained.
Another example of this backlash is the way consumers' got themselves very well organised and put in the effort to get into their bikinis and protest the Protein World Beach Body Ready campaign. A campaign with a limited shelf life and an absence of long-term strategy.
Don't sexualise everything
When a car brand like BMW uses the strapline 'you know you're not the first' with a provocative image of a woman, it is clear that the ad industry still has an unhealthy reliance on over-sexualising women in order to sell inanimate objects. According to Ryan this strategy not only lacks creativity, but suggests that the industry has not come a long way from the sexism of old.
According to Ryan the brands which are successfully connecting with a female audience are doing so by listening to women; which gives them permission to champion causes close to their hearts.
Talking about women, weight and food is a serious issue. Nike has thrived because it has recognised that women are often measured by things that they can't control; such as their looks. They have taken on these issues in their advertising and, according to Ryan, this has given them the legitimacy to speak to women about big issues and move beyond stereotypes.
Championing causes and change the language to connect with women
Pointing to the success of Sport England's This Girl Can campaign Ryan says that campaigning is a key strategy to connect with consumers. However, she also argues that better casting of ads is also a key vehicle for marketers to flip the gaze traditionally aimed at women on its head, to gain creative cut-through.