The move follows a global study from the Axe, Dove and Sunsilk parent company which found that 40% of women surveyed do not identify with the women presented in advertising, and comes after the revelation that just 3% of ads feature women in managerial or leadership roles - with a ‘disproportionate’ number placed in domestic roles.
Unilever, which is the world’s second-biggest advertiser in the world (spending USD 6.3 billion annually) has pledged to tackle this trend in its own ad offering, revealing its new global strategy last week at the Cannes Lions advertising festival.
“The time is right for us as an industry to challenge and change how we portray gender in our advertising,” said Unilever chief marketing officer, Keith Weed.
In its bid to remove sexism from its adverts, Unilever has said it intends to adopt a three-prong strategy, in a campaign which it’s dubbing ‘Unstereotype’.
Firstly, it will give female characters “authentic and three-dimensional” personalities; secondly, it will showcase the “aspirations and broader achievements” of women; finally, it will endeavour to depict beauty as “enjoyable, non-critical and in perspective.”
Weed has spoken of the company’s sense of responsibility to shift its output: “Our industry spends billions of dollars annually shaping perceptions and we have a responsibility to use this power in a positive manner.”
Unilever’s announcement comes following the worldwide success of its Dove ‘Real Beauty’ campaign over the past few years, and its recent distancing of its Axe brand from its previous mainstay of adverts centred on traditional notions of ‘masculinity’.
The business case
Commentators have been quick to note that the turn away from traditional narratives and stereotypes being witnessed among FMCG brands has more to do with the financial incentive than the moral high ground.
“Change is afoot, even if the business rather than moral case is compelling male-dominated boardrooms,” Simon Usborne wrote in the Guardian.
As the ongoing global shift towards liberalised social attitudes continues, consumers in greater numbers are demanding adverts keep up with the change; brands face a tricky negotiation to cater authentically to these trends, while also keeping more conservative markets onside.