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INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF CREATIVITY | 17-24 JUNE 2017

Gender identity is changing. So must advertising.

created on Wednesday 21 Jun 2017

By Aline Santos, Executive Vice President of Global Marketing, Unilever

If I was writing this 10 years ago, things would be different. Back then, our screens, magazines, newspapers and social media feeds were still full of stereotypical images of gender, beauty and life in general. That was just how things were done and it had been that way for generations.

But that’s not the world we live – and for all of us, work – in now. Gender identity is changing. Consumers are railing against traditional labels and boxes based on who or what they are – or rather who or what they are supposed to be. For many people, diversity is overhauling uniformity. Airbrushing and idealism are making way for real-life. 

In other words, stereotypes are dying out. Yet as an industry, we could be doing so much more to keep up. 

That’s the reason you’ll hear me and my Unilever colleagues talking a lot about change in Cannes this year. Not change for change’s sake but change that is right for society and right for marketers too. 

Taking the stereotypes out of advertising makes sense for everyone. Why? Because consumers are telling us they want it. If we don’t listen, how can we expect to build meaningful relationships with them, the very people we want to buy our products and services?  Put another way, unstereotyping is as much a business imperative as it is a societal responsibility, underlined by the fact that progressive adverts have been found to be 25% more effective and deliver better branded impact.

unilever flag

As part of Unilever’s own commitment to doing things differently, we have challenged every single one of our global brands to move away from unhelpful portrayals of gender and gender roles. This means fresh, balanced portrayals of men and women that are relevant for today’s consumer. 

Of course, we don’t expect to change things alone – nor overnight. So, looking beyond our own four walls, we have joined UN Women in establishing the Unstereotype Alliance. It brings together top industry leaders across creative, marketing and media to take collective, urgent action in eliminating outdated gender stereotypes and driving long-term, positive cultural change. This is especially true when it comes to the depiction of women, where much of our industry’s reliance on gender typecasting has tended to fall.

The Alliance will be rooted in tangible actions and measurable targets. This first meeting in Cannes will help determine where industry leaders will focus first. It will then be the responsibility of every member – invitees include the likes of WPP, Cannes Lions, Diageo, Facebook, Google, IPG, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Microsoft, Twitter, and more – to ensure those targets are achieved. We will track our progress as a group at a second Alliance meeting later this year, and at many more after that.

Sure, progress is being made but not as much or as quickly as is necessary. For real, long-term change to happen, it must be done at scale, starting with the Unstereotype Alliance and, we hope, blossoming into a true, industry-wide commitment. Cannes is all about celebrating the incredible creativity and skill that allows us, as advertisers, to influence people’s perceptions of themselves and the world. #Unstereotype is how we do it better.  

Aline Santos will be taking part in the first meeting of the Unstereotype Alliance on June 22.