AdNews and Lida Investigation: The journey of the Australian woman within advertising

By AdNews | 7 March 2019

This (Part 1) first appeared in the AdNews March 2019 magazine as part of a six-month project with Lida, looking at Bauer's Women's Weekly. Support AdNews by subscribing here.

This is the most significant piece of work AdNews has published in recent times.

In light of International Women’s Day, and a desire to track the journey of women in Australian advertising, we joined forces with data and CX agency LIDA to engage in a one of a kind, six-month long data project – analysing more than 20,000 adverts published in The Australian Women’s Weekly since its inception in 1933 through to today.

With the aid of a unique, AI-powered robot created by LIDA – and named Minerva (or Minnie as we now fondly call her) – we have delved into every aspect of the adverts that have been presented to Australian women, via The Weekly, for nine decades.

LIDA and Minnie were able to drive down into all facets of the 20,000 adverts – which brands produced them; the products they were selling; the copy that was used and the tone of it; the ‘pose’ and ‘stature’ of the person featured in the ad and so much more.

LIDA managing director Victoria Curro said, “Women have always had an uphill battle. At no point in modern history have our male counterparts had to catch up and gain equality (except possibly the acceptance for us to all wear dresses and make-up without discrimination). As advertising tends to tell itself that it’s a mirror to society, it’s time we took a factual look at how well we’ve reflected societal change over the past 80 plus years in advertising to women. And really ask are we in step, or do we need to catch up?”.

AdNews March front cover, by Lida

Here we unveil the full spectre of never seen before data, facts and information about the journey of women in Australian advertising: how they have been depicted, how brands have responded to changes in womanhood, how adverts have been modelled to resonate with women and which products and categories have, above all, tried to capture the heart and mind of an Australian woman.

This has been a significant undertaking (to put it lightly!) and the stories, facts and information we have gathered are nothing short of enlightening.

*Note that we combined the 1930s and 1940s owing to disruptions in both decades that resulted in a similar output for advertising.

And the truth? 

85GB and over two million data points later and we reach the end of our project, but this isn’t the end of our journey. Despite the incredible data-led learnings this investigation has produced, we feel as though we have only just started to answer our original question: is advertising’s depicition of Australian women in keeping or not with real life? Fact is, some brands – such as Berlei – have kept up pace whereas others, less so.

Australia ranks third in the world for the Human Development Index, and 61 on the Gender Development Index. While we’re improving the life of everyone around us, we need to continue to stay focused and vigilant on issues of gender, race, sexuality, disability and more.

It’s easy to talk about the pros and cons of advertising five, ten or even 50 years ago, but in the thick of it, developing content every day – how does the industry keep check of itself and ensure it’s not called out in the future?

Luckily, Minnie’s to hand. And for the first time, AdNews can genuinely put its hand on its heart and say, “here is an AI tool we believe in”. We’ve long been skeptical of mentions of AI and advertising in the same breath – but now we know the good work artificial intelligence can do for this industry.

We have since discovered that Minnie has been asked to determine if a (undisclosed) brand’s ads of the past five years have been too “blokey” – and Minnie, with no pre-dispositions or agendas to satisfy, will tell the truth. Hopefully that brand can move, if needs be, to a less “blokey” place.

With the ability to leverage modern technology such as Minnie, we don’t have excuses anymore. We now have real time data on current trends and depictions. It’s time to use that information to reflect our world for what it really is. 

See here for Part 2: The creation of Minerva, LIDA’s AI-powered robot 

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