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The impact of #MeToo on the advertising industry

Calls for increased equality and inclusivity in the advertising industry have picked up momentum in recent years.

5 min read

Marketing Strategy



In the age of #MeToo, where does the advertising industry stand?

In a time when gender equality, inclusiveness and pay parity are top priorities across nearly every industry, those in the advertising world are taking heed. Not only are advertisers looking to become more inclusive and balanced in their creative work, but they’re also working to bring more diversity to their ranks.

How ads are changing

Diversity in advertising is reaching a fever pitch thanks to the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements. Many brands are working toward more fair and balanced treatment of women in their advertisements, including J.C. Penney, which recently launched its “Style and Value for All” campaign. Marketing chief Marci Grebstein described the push as more realistic and relatable for today’s female consumers.

“[T]he tone and imagery throughout all of our marketing is relatable and shows a clear depiction of inclusion of ethnicities, and also shape, styles and sizes because all women don’t come in a size-two supermodel,” she said. According to Grebstein, the campaign has seen initial success among women and multicultural customers.

The Association of National Advertisers unveiled its #SeeHer campaign in 2016, which works to eliminate gender bias in advertising and accurately portray women and girls in the media. Research from the initiative has been ongoing, and just last month, ANA and TiVo released a study proving that ads that accurately depict women and girls are better-liked and more socially acceptable among men and women alike, especially when partnered with programming that accurately portrays females.

“Our research consistently proves that consumers reward the marketers who create advertising and support programming that accurately portrays women and girls. #SeeHer is good for business and good for society,” said initiative chair Stephen Quinn.

Although the industry is beginning to shake up the status quo, some changes are a bit slower to take hold. Among this year’s Super Bowl ads, for example, 73% included women, up from 62% in 2017, but ads with women playing a significant role dropped from 43% to 34%, according to research firm ABX.

Reinforcing the notion that women are misrepresented in today’s advertising world, a recent report from Hill Holliday’s Origin and Match Media Group found that 48% of single American women aged between 30 and 45 who don’t have children believe they are “nonexistent” in ads. The report recommends that advertisers provide a balance to what is currently mostly family-focused creative and cater to this demographic who describe themselves as independent, confident and responsible.

How the industry is changing

While some strides are being made to change the industry from the inside out, female advertising executives in March launched their own movement, dubbed Time’s Up Advertising, in an effort to directly address harassment and discrimination within the industry. The group’s mission includes driving new policies, practices and actions to create more balanced, diverse and accountable leadership; addressing workplace discrimination, harassment and abuse; and creating equitable and safe cultures within agencies.

“As women in senior leadership positions in advertising, we’ve agreed that we have the power to change this business we love until it looks more like the industry we want to lead,” reads a letter on the Time’s Up Advertising website. “As leaders, it’s on us to foster a workplace where people are challenged but still respected.”

In another effort to level the playing field for women in advertising, computer company HP undertook a push to increase diversity among its agency partners in early 2017. Within one year, the company not only saw a 20-point increase in women working on HP’s teams, but the company also saw a six-point increase in purchase intent and HP business drivers. Additionally, Nielsen reported a one-third increase in revenue per impression, and using ANA’s Gender Equality Measure methodology, HP also saw its ad effectiveness jump by five points.

“Transforming the industry requires holistic and systemic change in clients, agencies and production houses,” HP’s marketing chief Antonio Lucio told Forbes. “We can accelerate this change by publishing scorecards, sharing best practices and building a solid business case for diversity by sharing results,” he said.

To that end, blogger Philip Ellis wrote for Ogilvy that it’s crucial for the industry to dispel myths around which candidate is best suited for a particular sort of work, and to foster diverse talent.

“[A]ny outdated or harmful ideas that are incubated in an office environment will end up seeping into the work, hindering creativity and sending out the kind of skewed messaging which will end up causing even more issues and starting the cycle all over again,” he wrote.

While the true outcome of these movements and programs still remains to be seen, the trajectory of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements has certainly given the advertising industry a place to start.

Emily Crowe edits food and beverage and marketing briefs at SmartBrief and covers industry news for SmartBlog on Food and Beverage. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, and you can follow her on Twitter @SB_Food.

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