Men Appear in Ads 4 Times More Than Women, According to Research Revealed at Cannes

JWT and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media team up

Women are underrepresented in advertising. Source: Getty Images
Headshot of Kristina Monllos

CANNES, France—Advertising, just like television and film, doesn’t represent as many women as men on screen. Men appear in ads four times more than women and have seven times more speaking roles, according to new research from J. Walter Thompson and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media that was revealed during a panel at Cannes.

The agency and institute also found that there are twice as many male characters as female characters in advertising. To conduct the research they looked at 10 years (2006 to 2016) of audio and video content from Cannes’ film and film craft shortlists and winners, according to a rep for the agency. (Though, it’s worth noting that they only looked at English speaking work.)

The research, which used the Geena Davis Institute’s tool, the GD-IQ or the Geena Davis Inclusion Quotient, also revealed that 25 percent of ads feature just men while only 5 percent of ads only show women. Men are the only speakers in 18 percent of ads compared to just 3 percent of ads with women as the sole voice.

“You know who’s more powerful than Wonder Woman? Fearless Girl,” said Brent Choi, CCO at JWT in New York, noting the speed with which Fearless Girl was able to impact the culture versus the three years it took for Hollywood to develop the Wonder Woman film.

Madeline Di Nonno, CEO of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, noted that 41 percent of Hollywood executives that the institute has shared its data with have said it has impacted four or more of their projects. Di Nonno also urged the panel audience to share the data with the advertising community, arguing that seeing the data impacts the work created.

Madeline Di Nonno and Brent Choi reveal new data during a Cannes panel.

“There’s an expected amount of like, ‘I can’t believe women’s percentages and screen times and speaking time roles [are so] disturbingly low, but the biggest shocker for me was that nothing has changed in the last 10 years,” said Choi in an interview with Adweek prior to the panel. “You would think there would be at least some progress so that’s what really stood out to me.”

Lynn Power, CEO at JWT in New York, echoed Choi: “The numbers feel like they are old. They don’t feel like they are representative of today. Disturbing.”

Choi pointed to creatives’ unconscious bias when coming up with concepts for ads and how creatives need to break away from stereotypical scenarios with regard to gender roles to change the numbers. Creatives need to “rethink the norm,” said Choi.

“Data illuminates the problem and people can dismiss the problem but when they see the data they can’t dismiss it,” said Power. “It makes it real. And we’re all in a position where we can influence the work that gets put out into the world. What I hope people take away from this is that the work matters and you can actually change the stereotypes if you just put a little bit more thought, a little bit more awareness into the images and how they are being interpreted.”

Other salient data points include:

  • Women shown in ads are mostly in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Male characters shown in ads have a wider age range.
  •  Male characters in ads are twice as likely to be given comedic roles.
  • One in 10 female characters (six times more than male characters) are wearing provocative or revealing clothing and are shown in sexually revealing clothing.
  • Men are 62 percent more likely than women to portray characters in ads that are perceived as intelligent.
  • Male characters in ads are also more likely to be shown with a job (one in three versus one in four female characters).
  • Female characters in ads are 48 percent more likely to be shown in a scene that takes place in a kitchen. Meanwhile male characters in ads are 50 percent more likely to be shown in a scene that takes place at a sporting event.

@KristinaMonllos Kristina Monllos is a senior editor for Adweek.