Pink is for girls. So are unicorns, cupcakes, flowers, and bedazzled denim backsides. Blue is for boys. So are superheroes, dinosaurs, trucks, and outer space. You know this to be true if you’ve been in the kids clothing section of any mass market retailer. For too long, girls have been wardrobe assigned objects that are delicate, sweet, or frivolous while boys get to be ferocious, powerful, and smart.
In this new era that challenges gender norms, many companies are trying to be less stereotypical. Kids clothing line Free to Be Kids battles gender clichés and negativity with positive and timely tee phrases like, “Boys will be good humans,” and “Protest is Patriotic.” Cover Girl cosmetics recently introduced its first “Cover Boy,” YouTuber James Charles, in its mainstream advertising. And H&M released its Denim United collection, designed with a universal fit and appeal.
But are we doing enough?
Research by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media and JWT found that 85% of women say film and advertising need to be more reflective of the real world (hello, buttoned-up mom joyfully cleaning the floor). Modern women don’t identify with what they see in ads with 30% feeling that advertising shows women as perceived by men. Only 3% of women are portrayed as aspirational in ads, or in leadership positions, and only 0.03% of women portrayed as comical. A humble 1% of women were portrayed as heroes or problem solvers.
What are some steps advertisers and companies can take to be more inclusive while also reaching our target consumers?
Know why your brand or product stands out. Advertising should extract the universal truth about your brand that is relatable on a human level. In other words, consider the what, not the who.
Know what your company stands for. Live your values internally and they will translate externally. Make sure your entire organization is on board and keep each other in check.
Know the people promoting your brand or product. It’s pretty simple: to think diversely you must have diversity. Hire a marketing team that understands cultural and gender related sensitivities.
It’s up to all of us – designers, advertisers, influencers, consumers – to continue to shift cultural norms and take a stand against harmful stereotyping. In the words of Juliet Haygarth, CEO of London agency Beattie McGuinness Bungay, "Awareness should run as a thread through the process of creating communications. We can't, as agencies, talk about contributing to culture and then take a step back from our responsibilities. We shape minds and attitudes and opinions, and we must not confirm negative ones."