Study Finds Women Hold Brands Accountable For Inaccurate Portrayals In Ads

A new report from Dentsu and ANA’s SeeHer looking at progress toward gender equality finds that women across the generational spectrum want to see more accurate presentation of women in advertising and more support of female leadership at companies. And they hold brands accountable for making it happen.

Boomers and Gen Z are the most likely to hold brands accountable – 49% and 56% respectively-- assigning them “a lot” of responsibility to improve gender equality. And many millennials (44%) and Gen Xers (42%) agree. 

High on the to-do list is more accurate portrayals of women in advertising, where half to two-thirds of women polled for the report (depending on their demo) believe that’s an area where brands need to improve. Similar percentages want brands to increase female leadership within their own organization.



The study, the third in a series of gender equality studies from the holding company and advocacy group, finds that more accurate portrayals of women could be achieved in a number of ways, including showing more women in leadership positions and also in situations that more accurately reflect “real life.”

Greater diversity of talent seen in ads is also a must, per the report. Many women also want advertisers to stop retouching female images in ads.

Beyond advertising, media more broadly needs to work on its portrayals of women. Younger women in particular believe that’s the case.

Just 15% of Gen Z feel that media consistently does a good job of accurately representing women, compared to 38% of millennials and 33% of Gen X.

And only 23% of boomers feel that media does a good job of accurately portraying women. “This could be due to the tendency of American culture to overlook older women or present them as not vibrantly engaged with life,” per the report.

Suggested strategies for change include embracing “the Gen Z urgency. Gen Z has the strongest passion for gender equality yet are more attuned to the many challenges that need to be addressed.”

And brands risk a lot by not addressing this group’s concerns. “As the youngest, largest and most social media savvy consumers – they are also very willing and accustomed to voting with their wallets. Brands need to identify with their sense of urgency around gender equality to keep their loyalty and social currency.”

The report concludes that “Our goal as an industry is to match aspirations to reality. As older generations continue to insist on change and younger women assume leadership roles and launch businesses, consumers need to see change happen at a more aggressive pace.”

For marketers and media, “the increased visibility of female leadership and more accurate and authentic female role models in ads and programming, can and must, be the impetus to drive this change.”

The full report can be accessed here.


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