Unstereotype Alliance Creates a Free Tool to Eliminate Gendered Stereotypes in Ads

The global metric launched on International Women's Day

The Unstereotype Alliance creates global metric to ensure all characters in ads are serving as role models. Getty Images
Headshot of Lindsay Rittenhouse

The Unstereotype Alliance, the industry’s cross-organization initiative led by the United Nations’ UN Women, has unveiled a simple tool on International Women’s Day that makes it easier for marketers worldwide to check for gendered stereotypes that may unintentionally work their way into ads.

The tool, called the Unstereotype Metric, is free for any brand or agency to use across the world. It currently consists of a five-point question (which may be tweaked in the future) addressing how both male and female characters are represented in ads, with the goal of ensuring that they are portrayed as positive role models to all audiences.

When tested by Kantar, an Unstereotype Alliance member agency, results showed that consumers responded more positively to ads that used the metric than those that didn’t.

According to Kantar’s research, nearly three times as many viewers of the ads that used the metric reported that they generally liked the content. More than three times as many consumers also said they would consider buying the product in question after watching the ads. Finally, the unstereotyped ads drove a slightly more positive perception of the brand itself, on average.

"It’s not just stereotypes of girls and women that matter; it's also stereotypes of masculinity and intersectional portrayals."
—Michael Roth, chairman and CEO, IPG

“You cannot drive gender equality in a vacuum,” said IPG CEO and chairman Michael Roth, who is also a vice chair at the Unstereotype Alliance. “It’s not just stereotypes of girls and women that matter; [it’s] also stereotypes of masculinity and intersectional portrayals, like how we show gender plus age plus marital status.”

There’s also “no silver bullet” to fixing the issue, Roth noted, “like showing everyone the opposite of the stereotypes. That’s not the answer.” Showing characters in “traditional roles,” such as women as moms or men as breadwinners “is not inherently bad,” Roth added. “The issue is the context; the characters we portray in our work should have autonomy and depth and be seen as positive role models.”

Roth said the ultimate goal for the project is to “break down the barriers that stifle gender equality,” which could appear in many forms. He also noted that since the metric is a global tool, these barriers may vary depending on the market.

Unilever chief marketing and communications officer Keith Weed, also a vice chair of the alliance, said the organization’s members “have been asking for tools and guides [that] can help them make more ‘unstereotyped’ and progressive advertising.”

Weed said Kantar’s results of the metric back up the claim that “progressive advertising drives stronger business outcomes.”

“Our job as marketers will only be done when there isn’t a single piece of advertising that contains negative stereotypes,” Weed added. “We look forward to all companies and brands using these tools to accelerate their journey to unstereotyping all of their advertising.”

The tool is accompanied by a global “best practice playbook” developed by the Unstereotype Alliance to further guide marketers and agencies on how to foster fair and balanced communications. On any given campaign, the playbook asks members to consider who is being featured, who is framing the narrative and what depths the characters involved have.

An additional “gender gap analysis” tool, made in partnership with the Women Empowerment Principles, is available as well to help businesses assess how their internal workplace practices are driving diversity and inclusion.

The Unstereotype Alliance’s members include WPP, Publicis, Omnicom, Cannes Lions, Google, HP, P&G and various others.

“The impact we can make from our collective actions has the ability to change the narrative and ultimately put an end to harmful and outdated gender stereotypes,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women.

@kitten_mouse lindsay.rittenhouse@adweek.com Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.