We’ve stopped what we are doing and creating your personalized BrandZ™ report, which will appear in your inbox soon.

Gender representation in advertising- brands have to reset the balance

Anne-Lise Toursel

Head of Media and Creative, Insights Division

Kantar France


Gender representation in advertising: brands have to reset the balance

Gender roles are changing fast and there are key opportunities for marketers who keep pace.

Almost 90 percent of European marketers believe that they represent women positively in advertisements, while 45 percent of the public believe that women are still not properly represented, according to Kantar’s recent “AdReaction” study. This is an important data point. The gap in perception between marketers and consumers shows that it is still necessary in France, as elsewhere, to set the record straight about the representation of women in advertising. Rather than being daunted, at Kantar we see an opportunity. Our “AdReaction” research found that brands depicting and targeting women more accurately can have a positive impact on the effectiveness of advertising campaigns. In fact, it could represent up to an additional $9 billion in brand value.

Mind the gap: how French ads are getting it wrong when it comes to gender

  • In France, outdated stereotypes linger. Major product categories still target women exclusively, including 98 percent of laundry, cleaning and baby product ads; 82 percent of ads for hygiene products, and 78 percent of ads for food, even though we know that purchasing decisions are shared between both genders in all categories.

  • Both women and men say they are now looking for representations that are more in tune with today’s lifestyles. Yet less than one advertisement in five features a woman or a man with whom French consumers say they aspire to identify.

  • Advertisements in France show more “nice” women (50 percent versus 40 percent for men) and only 4 percent portray an authoritative female character. Yet advertisements featuring women with an aspirational or expert role (doctor, scientist) perform well because they are perceived as more convincing and credible.

  • The industry is struggling to make successful ads featuring women. All-female ads in France have less impact and are less likely to generate enthusiasm than all-male ads. In France, whatever the theme, ads that represent only men are more numerous than elsewhere.

  • Changing gender representations to better reflect current expectations is all the more necessary for brands because, as the study notes, good advertising works for both men and women. Humor, for example, is a strong lever for advertising engagement. Fighting gender stereotypes means not hesitating to script women in humorous situations, but currently only 22 percent of ads representing women use humor, compared with 51 percent representing men. However, in France 44 percent of women and 34 percent of men are receptive to humor in advertising. There are also some preferences among women for ads with a “slice of life,” children and a familiar musical tune.

Reframing gender: key take-aways for media targeting and effectiveness

  1. Gender balance pays: thanks to BrandZ ranking, we know that the average value of brands with a fair gender balance is higher—$20.6 billion, compared to $16.1 billion for brands targeting only women, and $11.5 billion for those targeting male consumers. However, only 33 percent of brands achieve this balance.

  1. Gendered categories are no longer relevant: by using simplistic targeting some brands are failing to recognize that decision making goes beyond gender distinctions in most categories. In France, women are increasingly decision makers in car purchases (75 percent versus 56 percent global average). Meanwhile, men are becoming decision makers when it comes to food shopping (88 percent versus 68 percent global average). Brands are missing an opportunity with lazy labelling.

  1. Channel and format are key to effectiveness: for example, digital advertising does not achieve the expected results for women. In 2018, digital ads generated 28 percent less impact on the brand for women than for men. Fewer women reliably rate online advertising as relevant. Beyond paid advertising, point-of-sale activity and word of mouth often have a greater impact on women than on men.

  1. The inability to interact meaningfully with a female audience reduces sales opportunities for brands and limits their long-term value, especially in a world where gender norms are evolving constantly. Women are still generally presented as less powerful in France, but the fact that advertisements featuring women with more authority are more successful shows there is an opportunity in moving the dialogue along.

In its latest “AdReaction” study, Kantar analyses the treatment of gender in advertising, its effectiveness on campaigns and its impact on consumers and brands. “AdReaction” is based on the analysis of 30,000 advertising tests in the global advertising database “2018 Link™,” the responses of 450 global marketers, the advertising behavior of nearly 40,000 consumers worldwide and the analysis of the brand equity of more than 9,000 global brands.