Brands and inclusion: the role of women in communication
The way that the world is represented by the marketing industry can either perpetuate stereotypes, or contribute to positive social change by reflecting and driving new social realities. As a woman, I am particularly interested in how the issue of gender is dealt with at present, and the advances that are taking place at this key time for the feminist cause.
There is a kind of revolution under way, thanks to a huge increase in activism in favor of women, and movements like “#metoo” and “#timesup”. Efforts to corner sexism are being made in many industries. But is the communications sector moving quickly enough? Is it doing its bit, or is it just following a trend?
This is a topic to which Burson Cohn & Wolfe and the entire WPP Group is dedicating much attention. We are part of the Common Ground movement, launched at the 2016 Cannes Lions festival, which represents the commitment of the marketing and communication industry to the fulfilment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. The major groups in the communications sector each decided to work on different commitments, and we focused on gender equality, not only fostering it within the group's own agencies, but also through our work with clients.
At a basic level, it is essential that women have opportunities to reach key roles in the industry; from there, they can help to challenge stereotypical representations of gender. I’m very proud because that the public relations industry is one in which women have tended to feel empowered and have frequently risen to leadership roles. In advertising, however, there is a scarcity of women on the creative front lines.
Beyond this, it is vital that brands’ communication promotes equality. In 2018, we saw an unstoppable wave of campaigns promoting the empowerment of women. Just look at the campaigns winning Glass Lions at Cannes 2018: some focused on making women more visible and encouraging them to pursue sports or science (Gatorade, Nike and General Electric), and others reflected on harassment or violence, such as the Schweppes campaign in Brazil.
The terms “Fermvertising” and “Ad-her-tising” have been coined for this kind of campaign, which challenges stereotypes. It is not a totally disinterested commitment on the part of the brands involved, because several studies show that ads promoting equality deliver greater returns on investment. Research by Facebook IQ, for instance, found that up to 48 percent of people in the US are more loyal to the brands that promote equality than those that don’t.
The current flurry of timely pieces of advertising or branded content are great for generating debate and stirring consciences, but as communication professionals, we can contribute more deeply to a more egalitarian world.
The consumers of the present and the future are millennials and centennials; they are unwilling to tolerate sexism or racism, and seek out brands they perceive as having authentic values. They have no time for faux-feminism. They immediately detect when a brand is jumping on a bandwagon or is producing work that fails to add to the debate or lacks authenticity. They will also object if a brand ends up sidelining men in its advertising in the same way that women have traditionally been treated.
More brands need to develop communication strategies that promote equality consistently and with determination. I speak of a comprehensive approach to communication, based on clear values and internal and external commitments that are reflected in all consumer touchpoints, the places where consumers interact with a brand.
There are great examples of commitment to gender equality by L’Oréal, Accenture and DuPont; brands are even developing working groups to further promote equality, such as “Companies Committed to Equality and Diversity”, driven by ECOFIN Forum, the Woman's Week Foundation, or the recently created cluster ClosinGap.
We will continue to use our profession to shine a spotlight on the need for gender equality, giving the issue maximum visibility in ways that will engage as many people as possible. Our advice to clients is that this also makes good business sense, because communication is not just about telling, but listening and responding accordingly.
Managing Director, Chief Innovation & Corporate Development Officer
Burson Cohn & Wolfe