header logo
Mar 27, 2024
Freya Williams
It’s time for brands to take girl culture and femme creativity seriously.
This was Rachel Lowenstein’s argument at the annual UN Unstereotype Alliance summit in NYC where Revolt’s Freya Williams accompanied our Mars client, Dale Green to discuss actionable ideas to challenge harmful stereotypes in advertising and media.

Read Freya’s key take aways below…
One step forward, one step back
Kantar gave a review of how Unstereotype advertising is bearing fruit, as measured by their Gender Unstereotype Metric. Positive and progressive portrayals of women rose 2% and of men 4% in the past 12 months across the industry. Unstereotype Alliance members consistently outperformed non-members against this metric. In markets where the Alliance is present, more screen time was given to female protagonists, females and males depicted in non-traditional gender roles and people of diverse ethnic origin, skin colour and body size.

This year, the Unstereotype Alliance’s 3Ps playbook was refreshed with additional guidance on portrayals of healthy masculinity, people with disabilities, women in sports, and diversity in body types. This can be found on the Unstereotype Alliance’s member hub.
Going woke does not mean going broke
The Alliance, in partnership with Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, Kantar, WARC and six Alliance members (including Unilever and Mondelez) studied 21 brands across 30 countries. Andrew Stephen from Saïd Business School shared data showing that progressive marketing drives sales. This teaser session focused on brand health, consideration and valuation metrics, showing how brands that score highest on the Unstereotype Metric (as a proxy for progressive advertising) also score significantly higher on brand equity and purchase-related metrics.

In addition to being 1.6X as ‘likely’ to be perceived as making people’s lives better, 1.74X to be seen as ‘socially responsible’ and 1.25X as’ likely to be seen as a brand you can trust’, they scored 2.25X higher on ‘brand uniqueness’, 2.28X on ‘brand affinity’, 1.5X on ‘purchase consideration’, 1.16X on ‘trial consideration’, 1.33X on brand ‘worth more than it costs’; and 1.47X on ‘brand loyalty’.

You can view the presentation here
The Billion-dollar Barbie proof point
Lisa McKnight, EVP, and Chief Brand Officer at Mattel, talked about how Mattel’s multi-year journey to recommit to Barbie’s purpose “to inspire the limitless potential in every girl had reinvigorated the brand, which now offers the most diverse doll assortment in the world. She described tackling stereotypes as a growth driver, indeed a survival strategy, saying, “Unstereotyping is critical to our success” laying the groundwork for the brand’s return to growth and the billion-dollar blockbuster Barbie movie.

She described how the team managed the risks associated with the project, including being willing to publicly reckon with the brand’s history in reinforcing harmful stereotypes (by naming Margot Robbie’s character “Stereotypical Barbie”). McKnight shared a topline view of the Barbie brand playbook – brand purpose, design-led innovation, cultural relevance, and execution excellence. McKnight also spoke about the brand’s evolution from a purveyor of products to an instigator of ideas: “Barbie the movie has proved our long-term strategy to evolve from a toy manufacturer to an IP-driven company .” You can watch the conversation at this link, starting at 1 hour 28 mins.
The untapped power of the disability community
The disability community was powerfully represented by Microsoft’s Director of Inclusive Design and disability advocate Christina Mallon. She highlighted that only 1% of ads feature disability, while 50% of representations of the disability community show disability in a negative way. “You have the power to make me feel disabled or not,” Mallon told everyone in the room, “inauthentic representation can undermine any positive intent of inclusion .” She shared Microsoft’s Inclusive Design Toolkit and was also part of a key panel on Inclusion and AI.

Christina Mallon urged the audience to think of AI as a tool for inclusion, not exclusion, describing how important tackling stereotypes is to training AI correctly rather than training it to perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Others on the panel spoke to similar ideas about other under-represented groups. A theme of the summit was the importance of partnership with the communities you aim to represent, with the mantra “who makes the work shows up in the work“.
The overlooked older consumer
Ayesha Walawalker and Nicky Bullard, both of MullenLowe Group UK, highlighted the huge gap and missed opportunity around representation in advertising of consumers over 50. 47% of US adults are aged 50+, and 57% of every $ spent is by consumers 50+, and yet only 15% of ads include someone 50+ (that number drops to 4% for 60+ – our performance on this is even worse). 80% of people over 50 said they were unhappy about their representation in marketing and advertising. “Ageism in the ad industry is not just outrageous, it’s commercially stupid,” said Bullard, using the example of Heineken’s The Night is Young as a campaign that celebrates the older consumer. “If brands ignore you, of course,, you’re going to ignore brands,” added Ayesha Wulawalkar on missed revenue for brands that don’t consider older audiences.
Inclusive media – the new frontier
Dale Green, Global Director at Purpose Marketing at Mars, had the privilege of introducing the new Unstereotype Alliance Guide to Inclusive Media (the 3Bs) and interviewing Rachel Lowenstein (Mindshare), Traci Spiegelman (Mastercard), Elda Choucair (OMG) and Caitlin Dorgler (Diageo). Under the headline that inclusive advertising isn’t just about creative, the 3 Bs urge media agencies and buyers to consider inclusivity in their media b riefs, in their b locked lists and in their b uys. Rachel Lowenstein highlighted that while we’ve done a good job wielding our industry’s content to drive progress, we’ve neglected the $885bn spent annually on paid media. She urged media buyers to consider how their buys can support under-represented media owners and content creators, flagging that women-black- and other minority-owned media are struggling. Dale highlighted that if you don’t reach these audiences, you’re missing the opportunity to target them with your messaging (ie penetration).

You can watch the recording here and access the 3Bs toolkit here.
Braving the backlash
While the threat of backlash to taking progressive action is real, so is the risk of not doing so. In one workshop, Creative Equals contrasted a heavily criticized Samsung ad that featured a woman running alone at night to the celebrated Adidas Ridiculous Run activation in partnership with non-profit White Ribbon, grounded in research finding 92% of women are concerned for their safety when they go for a run and building on a branded commitment to help make sport equal.

The group agreed that while great planning is critical and can inoculate against some negative reactions, understanding that some backlash is inevitable is part of the work; indeed, if you’re not garnering a reaction, maybe you’re not being bold enough.
Girlhood at the Centre of the Universe
Rachel Lowenstein made a compelling case for taking girl culture and femme creativity seriously, highlighting Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Barbie as evidence of the power of the multi-billion dollar girl economy. She posits this ‘season of girlhood’ and the shift of ‘girl’ from a noun to an adjective (see: girl dinner, girl math) as a reaction against the raft of legislative policies and ideologies that harm women and girls globally and devalue female culture. You can watch this engaging talk at hour 2 of this video.
Additional resources from the Unstereotype Alliance.
State of the Industry Report
This year’s report highlights that stereotypical representations in advertising continue to have negative consequences, including alienating some consumer segments and perpetuating harmful biases – and that such representations are out of step with consumers. 67% of consumers trust brands that make honest claims about their social initiatives and act with the best interests of society at heart. 63% are more likely to buy from brands making an effort to represent people like them. 60% believe brands that do not deliver on inclusion will become irrelevant. The report also issues a call to action for greater bravery “to push forward against the pushback” against progressive and inclusive marketing. More here.

Enjoyed this? Click here to sign up for next month’s newsletter.
Your Cookie Settings
By clicking 'Accept All Cookies', you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyse site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.