Unilever, UN Women Set Out to Slay Gender Stereotypes with Progressive Advertising Alliance

In recent years, Unilever has distinguished itself both as a champion for sustainability and overcoming gender bias with campaigns, initiatives and internal actions that work to align the company’s products and purpose. Further building on this reputation, the consumer goods giant has launched a new global alliance aimed at eliminating stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising and all brand-led content.

Co-convened by UN Women and Unilever, the Unstereotype Alliance was established in a bid to unite leaders across business, technology and creative industries to tackle the widespread prevalence of stereotypes perpetuated through advertising. The Alliance will convene for the first time at the Cannes Lions Festival on June 22 and will discuss key strategic priorities and how the industry can drive positive cultural change through advertising and help shape perceptions that reflect realistic, non-biased portrayals of women and men.

Joining Unilever and UN Women are organizations such as AT&T, Alibaba, Facebook, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Mars, Mattel, Microsoft, P&G, Twitter and the World Federation of Advertisers.

“Stereotypes reflect deep-rooted ideas of femininity and masculinity. Negative, diminished conceptions of women and girls are one of the greatest barriers to gender equality and we need to tackle and change those images wherever they appear,” said Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women. “Advertising is a particularly powerful driver to change perceptions and impact social norms. UN Women is excited to partner with the foremost industry shapers in this Alliance to challenge and advance the ways women are represented in this field.”

According to Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer Keith Weed, shifting away from stereotypes is more than a mere case of morality — progressive ads are not only more effective, but also deliver better branded impact. A recent Unilever study reiterated the point. Forty percent of women surveyed revealed that they did not relate at all to women they see in most advertisements. In an analysis of a diverse range of advertisements spanning countries and brands, the study also found that 50 percent of ads showed a negative or outdated stereotype of women and only 3 percent showed women as being clever or funny.

On the other hand, campaigns such as Dove’s #MyBeautyMySay, which features stories from real women who stand up for their own beauty and Axe’s #IsItOkForGuys, which drew on research findings that revealed 72 percent of men have been told how they should behave and shows real questions that were searched on Google by men, have been well-received by Unilever’s diverse consumer base.

“We’ve seen true progress in our industry, but it doesn’t go far enough. Our job isn’t done until we never see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society,” added Weed. “We want to work with our peers across the industry to develop new ways of working, to share knowledge and approaches, so that we can scale the Unstereotype commitments. We believe cross-sector collaboration will lead to sustained transformation.”

The Unstereotype Alliance launches a year after Unilever’s Unstereotype initiative, which set a global ambition for all its brands to advance advertising away from stereotypical portrayals of gender.

“This is a very important next step in the Unstereotype mission. Every Alliance member has done extremely valuable work in this space and now it’s time to come together to drive impact at scale. Unstereotype should be the norm for all brands, not a differentiator for a select few,” said Aline Santos, Executive VP of Global Marketing for Unilever.

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