Author: Andrew Baxter (this article first appeared in The Australian on 18th November 2016)
Remember those old ads for detergent powder? You know, the ones that had stay-at-home mothers talking passionately about the whiteness of their Monday wash. They’ve been banished from Western television screens for years now, and seem extraordinarily dated. These days detergent marketers are more savvy. And not just in Australia. The Indian detergent brand, Ariel, last year ran a fascinating campaign that played directly to gender equality.
It was filmed from the perspective of a traditional Indian father watching his adult daughter moving around the house answering work calls, responding to emails, getting the kids’ dinner and putting the washing on, all in the space of 20 seconds, while her husband relaxes watching television. It’s then that the father realises the typecast nature of how his generation reared their children, and what poor role models they’d been. The tradition had left daughters to do everything without the help of their husbands. The father writes an apologetic letter to his daughter and then helps his elderly wife do the washing. The campaign #ShareTheLoad, is an example of how advertising is used to shift attitudes and behaviour.
In the past 50 years we’ve seen advertising sell brands, help elect prime ministers, create vernacular in popular culture, and more recently drive powerful human movements like Earth Hour. The trend for not-for-profits and governments to promote this sort of social change through ads has included efforts to promote diversity at work and break down stereotypes about women and men. There are some interesting examples.
ANZ has pushed the equal pay issue with the #EqualFuture campaign this year highlighting the absurdity of pay disparity between men and women. Its campaign showed young boys and girls under the age of 10 doing the same chores at home for pocket money, only for the boys to be paid more than the girls. The impromptu, incredulous reactions of both the boys and the girls about how unfair this was is a great reminder of how illogical wage inequality is.
Similarly, last year’s multi-award winning campaign for P&G feminine hygiene brand Always used the innocence of kids to tackle gender stereotyping. The campaign asked teenage girls and boys to run, or throw, like a girl. Invariably they demonstrated the stereotypical actions of a girl throwing in an uncoordinated way with little strength, or running in an over-elaborate manner with legs flaying out sideways. The film then asked girls under 10 to run or throw like a girl. These girls ran ferociously on the spot as fast as they could, and powerfully threw a ball into the distance. The juxtaposition told a strong story – that it’s not okay to slip into gender stereotypical behaviour as you grew older, that being #LikeAGirl isn’t an insult, but an empowering statement, one that 62 million people have watched on YouTube alone.
There are few advertising campaigns that have highlighted the challenges and benefits of gender diversity in senior business leadership roles. One exception was the haircare brand Pantene in the Philippines in 2013. Its #LabelsAgainstWomen video suggested women should not have to downplay their personality to succeed at work.
But the campaign showed how tough that is when the same behaviour is interpreted differently – when a man is seen as a boss, and a woman is seen as bossy, a man is seen as persuasive, while a woman is seen as pushy, a man who works back late is seen as dedicated, but a woman is selfish and uncaring of her family. The campaign struck a chord, with more than 200 million media impressions.
The advertising industry has come a long way from the idealised stay-at-home mum and Mad Men days. Like many industries, it has its own gender challenges, with not enough women holding senior roles in agencies. But the creative community globally has responded to the agenda of gender diversity, inequality and bias. It has even introduced a major award, the Glass Lion, to honour campaigns that address issues of gender inequality and prejudice at its annual Cannes festival. This year’s Top 50 Australian Chief Marketing Officers included 23 women, indicating the marketing and advertising community will continue to help change attitudes around gender.