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Beyond cliches and stereotypes: Brands that have got their women representation right

An industry where the portrayal of women often leans heavily on outdated stereotypes, it boxes them into cliched roles that are either overly sentimental or superficial. Whether it’s the tearful mom, or the daughter-in-law juggling everything with a smile, the cliches are not just tired but alienating. What’s more, is the fact that the same product is marketed differently to both men and women.

For instance, sports and fitness gear advertisements targeting men often scream competition, strength, and performance enhancement, portraying athleticism as a domain of masculine achievement. Conversely, fitness products marketed to women tend to focus on aesthetics or weight loss, implying that women’s primary fitness goal is to conform to conventional standards of beauty rather than achieve athletic prowess. 

This pattern extends into the financial sector, where advertising traditionally depicts men as the primary decision-makers. Men are shown making investment choices and engaging in high-stakes financial planning, while women if they appear at all, are shown managing savings or handling day-to-day budgeting. 

Similarly, in tech and gadget marketing, there’s a clear gender divide. Men are often shown engaging deeply with technology, fascinated by specifications and innovations. In stark contrast, advertisements aimed at women tend to simplify the technology or focus on its design and how it fits into their lifestyle, subtly undermining women’s interest in or understanding tech functionalities.

This sentiment is also backed by data from the Gender in Advertising 2023 report, which shows that in 2022, men were cast in professional roles 73% more often than women, and 30% more often in leadership roles. Meanwhile, women were 46% more likely to be seen in domestic roles and slightly more in family settings than in the previous year. And women are clearly not resonating with these ads as according to a media report, 91% of women said advertisers don’t understand them. It’s high time that marketers embrace a more nuanced, realistic representation of women, tapping into their actual interests and roles as the disconnect between these portrayals and the real aspirations and capabilities of women is striking. 

Aside from the fact that women control over $31.8 trillion in worldwide spending, brands need to ensure ads speak to women. According to an Ipsos report, representing females in a more positive way in ads achieves a higher long-term and short-term impact for brands. Maybe this is another reason that brands and agencies have been working towards positive rather accurate representation of women.

When it came to accurate representation of women in advertisements, only a handful of examples came to mind. That’s why we decided to turn to the experts – women who have carved a name for themselves with their hard work and determination in the advertising and marketing industry and also are Social Samosa’s Superwomen 2024 Jury.

Here are the campaigns that they find accurately represent women:

Aditi Shrivastava, Co-founder, MD & CEO, Pocket Aces

I think lately, one campaign that left an impression on me for its accurate representation of women is Mankind Pharma’s pregnancy kit campaign for Prega News. It depicted a teacher who is about to go on maternity leave when three or four of her students fail in class. She has to then decide whether she wants to give them remedial classes right before their board exams. While other teachers express concerns about her managing this alongside her impending childbirth, she responds with determination, saying, “Yeh dono mere bache hain.” I believe the campaign effectively highlights women’s dedication to delivering results, often going above and beyond, regardless of the situation. It emphasises women’s excellent work ethic and their caring nature, showcasing their willingness to prioritise others over themselves to achieve success.

Anupama Ramaswamy, Chief Creative Officer, Havas Worldwide India

The recent Urban Company campaign is such an apt representation of women in India. And it ends with a beautiful line – Auratein jitni aage badhti hain, logon ki soch utni hi choti hoti jaati hai.

Binaifer Dulani, Founding Member & Creative, Talented

Google Search’s ‘Manjha’ under the the Search for Change banner – represented the lived realities of women, and showed the trope of strong, supported women. Too often, our expectation is for women to be ‘superwomen’ and change their destiny by themselves. Instead, we need to see strong women – who are supported by allies and technology.

Chaaya Baradhwaaj, Founder & MD, BCWebwise 

A recent ad created for Santoor where the female Pilot is back after a long break, the child is a toddler. This represented that she was away playing her role as mother for 3-4 years at least. This is an accurate representation of women in India, who do their best to do justice to whatever role they play. 

Deepika Warrier, Head of Marketing, Bajaj Auto

No piece of advertising work comes readily to life, but love the work of content producers like Zoya Akhtar, Meghna Gulzar, and Avinash Arun who make authentic sensitive stories with real, vulnerable characters -both men and women.

Geet Nazir, Managing Partner, Conran Design Group Mumbai

For me, Havas Middle East’s I Am Possible campaign for Adidas is a fantastic representation of women overcoming micro challenges to win the big picture. 

Pankhuri Harikrishnan, Founder & Director, Fetch!

The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty stands out as a compelling and impactful initiative that left a lasting impression on me for its accurate representation of women.

What made this campaign particularly powerful was its global reach, featuring women from different corners of the world, with diverse backgrounds and unique appearances. The emphasis on showcasing beauty in all its forms, regardless of ethnicity, age, or body shape, contributed to a more accurate and inclusive portrayal of women.By bringing together women, the Dove campaign challenged societal beauty norms and fostered a sense of unity among women. 

Vanaja Pillai, President, 22feet Tribal Worldwide,  Head – DEI, DDB Mudra Group

I still reference and admire the ‘Like a Girl’ campaign, by Always. It accurately presented what we tend to do with our young men and women, and truly inspired us to rethink our foundational beliefs around what it means to be a girl. 

Villoo Daji, SVP – Group Marketing, Baccarose

 I would say, it has to be the Parcos Women’s Day 2022 campaign – #ImEnough, focusing on gender equality as a necessary foundation for a peaceful and sustainable world. To end all forms of discrimination against all women, celebrating women’s achievements, while calling out inequality, is a crucial step towards achieving equality, which is a fundamental right. 

Throughout history, women have always been asked to function according to other people’s expectations, agendas, and standards – whether it is men or even other women, their parents, families, friends and of course, society at large. They’re constantly told how they should look, speak, behave, and essentially carry themselves in this world, which creates unnecessary self-doubt, fear, and a lack of confidence. Parcos’ I M Enough Campaign aimed to encourage all women to push against and break this systemic, deeply problematic, and archaic reality and narrative, showcasing how a woman is a culture maker, a change maker, leader, and an icon. She can exist exactly how she wants. She is her own person. And that is enough.

Source: Social Samosa

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