During the Advertising Week in New York this week, how advertisers respond to gender stereotyping will likely be a topic of discussion. Under the UK’s new gender stereotyping rules that went into force in June, the first advertisements featuring “harmful gender stereotypes” were officially banned last month.
Among the advertisements being banned include U.S. food giant Mondelez, and German carmaker Volkswagen. What started as a U.K. ban is going to affect the advertising landscape globally, from creatives to advertising technology. Do advertisers have what it takes to stop perpetuating harmful gender stereotypes?
“I watched an advertisement once about credit score. In the ad, the ones with the lowest credit score are all African American woman. In a way, I am happy that African Americans are appearing more in advertisements, but I hope that advertisers should create more diversity in the types of professions and activities that African Americans participate in,” says Alexandrea Brown, a 25-year-old student from California who is taking part in a panel organized by Adobe Advertising Cloud.
Alexandria’s experience echoes the experiences of many consumers, especially the younger generations. “We are noticing that consumer tastes are shifting over time and while a common misconception is that consumers dislike ads, they actually understand the benefit as long as the ads are authentic, relevant and non-intrusive,” says Claudia Page, SVP of Partner Product at Dailymotion, reflecting on the change over her 13-year career.
To respond to the change, advertising platforms may need to vet the content they put up to avoid content that perpetuates stereotypes. For example, Dailymotion has recently moved from a user-generated content to a model whereby they verify content providers – a “premium-verified owner” model.
For advertising platforms, they also need to think about targeting. “When I go on Facebook I often see personalized ads from lingerie companies. While it is a good thing that the ads feature normal looking people in nude color bras, I do wonder why I am targeted in the first place,” says Grace Gilmore, a 25-year-old professional living in Brooklyn, also involved in the Adobe Advertising Cloud’s panel. Indeed, research shows Facebook has perpetuated gender stereotypes in adverts on their platform through targeting. They have delivered “certain ads, including for housing and employment, in a way that aligns with race and gender stereotypes — even when advertisers ask for the ads to be exposed a broad, inclusive audience.” In other words, advertisers may need to think about targeting differently, not only along demographics lines.
“We are serving data insights to advertisers along attitudinal lines, beyond demographic or sociological information,” says Page. “With our users, they have the ability to skip an ad or tell us that they don’t like this ad. These are signals for us to understand whether a campaign is relevant, so we can create the contextual environment that does not perpetuate stereotypes.”
What Page alludes to is the wider shift towards considering the biases in algorithms that perpetuate stereotypes. Consumers, especially from the Millennial generation, are already demanding it, but the U.K.’s explicit ban is certainly accelerating the change.