What the new WFA gender guidelines mean for advertising and society

Gender intelligence consultant Bec Brideson
By Gender intelligence consultant Bec Brideson | 28 May 2018
Bec Brideson

Last Sunday morning I attended my first kids suburban football match, with its unfamiliar (to me) rituals of boundary lines, hot coffee, warm coats, and pet dogs everywhere. It was my 10-year-old daughters first game of AFL in an all-girl comp. It was a lovely thing to behold. Since the wildly successful AFLW debut last year there has been a 76% increase in girls playing. In fact, there is now a shortage of grounds. Think about that for a moment. The financial windfall at the local club level. The future value of these fully engaged AFL families, where mum, dad and all of their kids are passionate about the game. I’d love to see the residual dollar value on that. It confirmed a truth to me, ‘if you can see it, you can be it.’ And that’s what this initiative is all about.

Let’s get it out early.

Progressive gender portrayals are good for womenkind, good for mankind and good for humankind.

Of course the industry should have done this long ago. We spend so much time congratulating ourselves for our wonderful insights, and intimate understanding of the voice of the consumer. Apparently, we’re the trend spotters and change creators. Yet the industry was deaf to the beating of drums for the last decades and then some. It’s taken a storming of the barricades in the form of hashtags #meetoo and women’s marches to finally #seeher and realise both men and women win with this practical acknowledgement.

And it’s not like we didn’t need it - brands take note! There’s retail - one of the worst offenders. Lately Chemist Warehouse have been making ads where crazed-women throw their bodies at shelves of product and the poor male sales attendant is a hapless victim, attempting to protect his helmet-clad head but crushed to the ground in the stampede frenzy. Coles? They need to stop directing their female VO to sound like she’s close to orgasm over half price Creamed Corn. Thankfully the finger pointing down-down hand is gone – I’m hoping in their redundancy the hands will help us push those heavy trolleys ‘round the store.

Finance and insurances are so hit and miss - Isla Fisher plays airhead femme fatale draping herself on an ATM and shamelessly flirts with a queueing customer in front of his partner. And who saw a little boy in a TVC for car rentals emulating a lecherous man leering at young girls? Automotive have been suffering for years – a recent out of home small car ad claiming women don't drive cars they “wear” them. Another SUV aimed at women - yet replete with condescending MVO narrating the antics of ‘pinkwashed’ cliché-empowered females. What can I say – it’s everywhere in every category and it’s not good for any future generations trying to sort this stuff out IRL.

Which is why the guidelines can now inspire marketers to seek and expect better outputs from their agency. Consumers are calling time on brands that don’t get it. And this is why.

  • 85% of women say film and advertising need to catch up with the real world.
  • 30% feel advertising shows women as perceived by men.
  • Just 3% of women are portrayed as aspirational in ads, or in leadership positions, and only 0.03% of women portrayed as funny.
  • Only 1% of women were portrayed as heroes or problem solvers.

Keith Weed, who helped pioneer Unsterotype Alliance agrees that “Our job won’t be done as long as ads still diminish or limit the role of women and men in society”.

Now let’s level up another order of the purpose ladder here – beyond the very lucrative upside of selling more to our customers by mirroring their realities and not dumbing them down.

For starters, we accurately reflect modern values and portray positive gender role models to inspire a healthier social-standard. We give the gift of “see it, be it” inspiration – influencing social mores in a truly positive way. Brands have the mercurial ability to become something that guide, unite and build communities around common purpose. As marcomms professionals we do change perceptions and outcomes because that is our expertise - transforming and influencing behaviour so people choose, purchase or feel differently about our clients. We can and should use it for good.

This is just the start of getting gender right in business. Agency models struggle for relevancy – and guidelines like WFA are here to course-correct their traditional-lensed methodologies. Research agencies are on notice too. The gender nuances and intricacies are the next biggest disruptor to business – and not just in the “let’s start a female lean-in circle, aim for 50/50 by 2020 and have a muffin on International Women’s day” kind of way.

Gender handled with intelligence, with financial upsides understood, with growth-targets measured – is a whole new game for the smart leaders in the room. There’s money being left on the table for brands and it’s there for the taking.

Gender intelligence consultant Bec Brideson

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