Study on ads shows gender stereotypes impeding progress

Office workers have lunch in front of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. ― Reuters file pic
Office workers have lunch in front of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur. ― Reuters file pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 29 ― Advertisements in Malaysia have been found to perpetuate harmful gender stereotypes which hold back progress, according to a study by research group Kantar.

While 83 per cent majority of marketers in Asia Pacific think they are doing a good job of creating advertising that avoids gender stereotypes, the AdReaction report found a significant 63 per cent of targeted Malaysians saying that such advertising conforms to their perceptions of gender stereotypes.

“In addition, many people see these traditional expressions of men and women in advertising as holding back progress, with 60 per cent in the APAC region and 63 per cent in Malaysia agreeing that most ads in their country reinforce rather than help eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes,” said the report.

The report said that the industry struggles to make great ads starring women and when both genders appear in ads, men are 38 per cent more likely to be featured prominently than women. This is despite research showing that progressive ads, for example those led by authoritative female characters, outperform other ads.

Kantar Insights division chief commercial officer Ian Kwa said that while half of Malaysians agree that the way their gender is portrayed in advertising is a reflection of reality, the majority also feel that advertising in this country typically conforms to gender stereotypes.

“However, we know that advertising has the potential to change the conversation. Progressive ads with authentic stories do well with audiences of both genders. Brands that want to journey through this with consumers need to start with ads that are carefully tested, handled sensibly, based on cultural and consumer understanding,” he said.

Globally, the “AdReaction: Getting Gender Right” reports that brand value is highest among gender-balanced brands that avoid stereotypes yet just 33 per cent of global brands achieve this balance.

Male-skewed brands are missing out on an average of US$9 billion (RM37 billion) in brand valuation globally. On the flip side, authoritative female characters also make ads much more believable and persuasive ― attributes which are known to lead to short-term sales boosts.

“Good adverts are usually good for everyone and bad adverts are bad for everyone ― irrespective of intended gender targeting and that humour works well across both genders ― but ads featuring only women use comedy less than half the time as ads featuring only men,” it said.

The AdReaction study from Kantar was based on analysis of 30,000 ads, survey responses of 450 global marketers, consumer advertising attitudes among almost 40,000 consumers, and brand equity analysis of over 9,000 global brands to create an in-depth understanding of the role of gender in advertising.

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