Have brands got to grips with portraying women in ads? Don’t ask men!

It’s difficult to believe that only five years ago, the way women were generally portrayed in advertising was broadly the same as in the 1970s.

Back then, the content would usually have been prepared for and by men. Women at both ends of the advertising chain were in short supply; they were either creatives working in the ad industry or decision-makers receiving the ads. The stereotypes you were likely to see during these years had a narrow range from domestic goddess to sex object; from selfless home-maker to unattainable princess, identified by the Museum of Brands.

When surveyed, men were more likely to agree that women are now represented positively in advertising compared to five years ago, than women themselves. Overall, the Marketing Week and YouGov survey of 2,000 UK adults found that 50% thought the representation of women had improved since 2015.

Throughout the 80s, 90s and 00s, women established themselves in the workplace, including in the advertising industry, but changing their representation in the industry’s output has taken far longer. Ensuring that you have a balanced team with progressive approaches to reflecting real demographics in your ad content is a great place to start.

Ground zero of the current wave of long-overdue change is widely considered to be Protein World’s 2015 ad asking women whether they were ‘beach body ready.” Since then, similarly, insidious phrases like ‘girl boss’ have been banished as gender stereotypes have crumbled.

Objectification of women in advertising is still a major problem. The survey found that 38% agreed there was less objectification of women, while 12% believed things had deteriorated since 2015. The majority felt it was about the same now as five years ago. Again, interestingly men are much more likely to think that women are less objectified now than women are.

One of the culprits is photo retouching software. Complaints of airbrushing in adverts and magazines, in particular, have been consistent for decades now. As the tools to do this improved, so did access to the technology. Within minutes it’s possible not only to make a model’s body flawless but also anatomically impossible.

Now, brands are being challenged to feature real women in their advertising. Showcasing models with wrinkles, non-hourglass bodies, acne, scars and imperfect teeth enables consumers to see how products really work. Living through lockdown and without beauty services has made previous ideals not only unattainable but completely out of touch with reality.

The survey did find one indisputably positive outcome of the last five years of change. 64% of those surveyed think that women of colour are represented more in advertising than five years ago. Only 2% felt that there has been a decline.

However, many brands need to do far more to show ethnic minority women in a realistic light, with some still producing content revealing unconscious bias. An industry-wide 2020 Marketing Week survey found that black women are under-represented on marketing teams, at just 2%. Over 88% of respondents identified as white, and only small numbers as Asian (5%) or mixed race (4%).

Ensuring your teams are diverse is not a box-ticking exercise, it’s critical to your brand’s relevance and success.

This new direction is a challenge, but an important one. Don’t just keep up, be current and at the forefront of whatever comes next. We can find the people that will ensure you are leading innovation, not following it. Contact our industry-renowned team at Clifford Associates to find the right people for your senior digital team.

Don't just take our word for it

  • Tom Salvat, CEO, CONCURED
    "As a fast-growing start up, we need great people with a tough set of skills to find. They need to be hungry, experienced and fit the culture of a business that is always adapting and growing. Finding these people using Linkedin and other job boards is tough, time-consuming and rarely bears fruit. Ross has always been able to uncover gems for us, and we are benefiting greatly from his skills at CONCURED. Ross has a rare ability to really understand the business, the culture and the people that will nail the role. I couldn't recommend him highly enough, and he is the only recruiter we deal with"      
    - Tom Salvat, CEO, CONCURED
    Tom Salvat, CEO, CONCURED
  • Tariq Mahmood, Enterprise Sales, Concured AI Content Marketing
    I am writing to express my gratitude to Ross Clifford & Associates who helped me successfully secure the role of Enterprise Sales Executive at Concured. Ross was extremely professional and understood the specifics of the job I required. I especially appreciated his fast response, transparent communication, and coordination in a timely and efficient manner.
    - Tariq Mahmood, Enterprise Sales, Concured AI Content Marketing
    Tariq Mahmood, Enterprise Sales, Concured AI Content Marketing
  • Jessica Cole, Editor – Redwood London.
    Ross is one of the friendliest recruiters I've dealt with. He was always attentive, quick to respond and ready to help with any questions I had. He's very professional, and not at all superficial like so many other recruiters out there. I would highly recommend him.
    - Jessica Cole, Editor – Redwood London.
    Jessica Cole, Editor – Redwood London.
  • Gareth Lofthouse, Founding Partner, Longitude.
    “We look for commercial people with a rare blend of talents. They need to be able to advise our blue-chip clients on thought leadership strategy. They need to be highly strategic and purposeful in uncovering opportunity. And they need the hunger it takes to thrive in a rapidly evolving business. RC&A were quick to understand our needs, they only delivered high-quality people for interview, and succeeded in getting us a winning candidate incredibly fast.”  
    - Gareth Lofthouse, Founding Partner, Longitude.
    Gareth Lofthouse, Founding Partner, Longitude.
  • Johnny Meredith, Senior New Business Manager, The Bio Agency.
    I can't rate or recommend Ross highly enough. He brings a thoughtful, personal approach to the process, carefully matching opportunities with candidates, through a good understanding of their priorities and skills. Throughout, he keeps candidates up to date in an open, honest way. A genuine pleasure to work with.
    - Johnny Meredith, Senior New Business Manager, The Bio Agency.
    Johnny Meredith, Senior New Business Manager, The Bio Agency.
  • Karen Troman, Office Manager & HR Co-ordinator, VoucherCodes.co.uk part of RetailMeNot
    Ross is the best recruitment agent I have worked with, he stayed in contact, kept me informed and was with me every step of the process. He also checked in with me during my first couple of weeks in my new role to make sure I was settling in. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him.
    - Karen Troman, Office Manager & HR Co-ordinator, VoucherCodes.co.uk part of RetailMeNot
    Karen Troman, Office Manager & HR Co-ordinator, VoucherCodes.co.uk part of RetailMeNot
  • Neil Kettleborough, CRO & Co Founder, Chalk Social
    I have worked with Ross over 4 years now and he has always delivered a really high standard of candidate both at senior and junior level. His online knowledge is second to none and all the candidates he has put forward over the years have only good things to say about Ross and his work ethic.
    - Neil Kettleborough, CRO & Co Founder, Chalk Social
    Neil Kettleborough, CRO & Co Founder, Chalk Social
  • Helen Rosemier, Commercial Director, Professional & Financial Services Practice, Longitude
    Ross is a fantastic recruitment consultant -  extremely professional, meticulous, patient and supportive. Throughout the process, I felt he represented me really well and genuinely cared about my career and finding the right role. Thanks to Ross I am now in a role I love, working with a brilliant team. Very highly recommended!
    - Helen Rosemier, Commercial Director, Professional & Financial Services Practice, Longitude
    Helen Rosemier, Commercial Director, Professional & Financial Services Practice, Longitude

© Ross Clifford Associates. Website by Outlines Design.