- Categories like food and beverage have done a better job of balancing their gender-based ad targeting since 2010, while other sectors, such as household cleaners, have only started to realign their strategies over the past few years, according to new data from Kantar. The findings, reported in The Wall Street Journal, reveal that certain categories, including automotive, have been relatively stagnant in terms of their gender targeting.
- Kantar's insights were drawn from tests that the firm conducts on behalf of marketers, where it surveys men and women to gauge their responses to ads. Kantar argues that these tests present a relatively accurate reflection of marketers' target demographics. Between 2010 and 2018, Kantar was asked by brands in the baby product, laundry product and household cleaner categories to test ads with target audiences that were, on average, 98% female, for example. Alternatively, ads from motor oil brands had test segments that were just 29% female.
- Some say the heavily skewed audience makeup doesn't necessarily reflect current consumer trends, as household purchasing decisions are now made by men and women in more equal measure. For a category like grocery, which has traditionally been largely targeted at women, 68% of men considered themselves the primary buyer as of 2017, per Kantar. The shift toward more equitable targeting has been spurred, not just by consumer trends, but also industry initiatives and cultural movements like #MeToo.
The demand for advertising free of outdated gender stereotypes has been steadily rising for several years, but the Kantar research shows that some in the industry are more sluggish to adapt than others. Ads that take on a more progressive approach to gender appear to resonate with consumers, though tackling issues like masculinity or feminism directly in marketing messaging can cause controversy.
Facebook published a report in 2017 that found that 79% of women and 75% of men favor brands that promote gender positivity. Consumers surveyed overall felt 8% to 10% more positively toward brands that propped up gender-positive messaging, and that the tactic strengthened loyalty with 48% of men and women.
Major marketers have started to pour more resources into programs that work to ensure a equitable approach to gender representation, both in consumer-facing campaigns and behind-the-scenes production and agency efforts. Unilever has pushed to "unstereotype" its ads, including through the launch of an alliance two years ago that includes Procter & Gamble (P&G), Diageo and ad holding group WPP, which owns Kantar.
At the Cannes Lions advertising festival last year, Unilever pledged to expand its Unstereotype initiative across all content formats. The CPG giant's marketing chief Keith Weed previously shared data with Marketing Dive that found unstereotyped ads increase purchase intent by 18%, along with being 21% more credible and 16% more relevant with consumers.
While some consumers are clearly receptive to ads that better reflect the reality of their daily life or offer empowering messages, ads that tackle political or social issues around gender enter murky territory. P&G's Gillette brand kicked off 2019 with a campaign that directly addresses toxic masculinity and the #MeToo movement — the latter of which has been a major factor affecting shifts in gender-based targeting.
The Gillette ad garnered millions of views online but also plenty of negative reactions and threats of boycotts from consumers who thought the brand was painting men with too broad a brush. A BrandTotal analysis of the campaign found that 63% of consumer sentiment about the ad on social media was negative, while just 8% was positive.