Unstereotype Alliance: The Problem Is Not Seeing The Problem – Advertising Week

By Dana Russo, Director, Strategic Planning, Mindshare NA

Mindshare North America is on the ground with a team of rising stars at Advertising Week! Follow our session recaps here for insights across a wide range of topics and speakers.

Unconscious bias is pervasive. And this morning, a panel of leaders from Unilever, IPG, A&T, the United Nations, and TFQ (The Female Quotient) gathered to discuss the importance of unstereotyping within the advertising industry. The session kicked off with a short film produced by The Unstereotype Alliance, an industry-led initiative convened by UN Women, the lead UN agency on gender equality and women’s rights. It sends a clear message about the perils of stereotyping, the need to understand our consumers, and our responsibility as advertisers to accurately represent consumers.

Advertisers today spend countless hours and billions of dollars shaping the way consumers see and interpret their ads. Unfortunately, there is a fundamental disconnect in the way consumers are being portrayed. Many advertisements today showcase a view of the world that consumers don’t aspire to or relate to.

Aline Santos, EVP, Global Marketing at Unilever, shared that “40% of women don’t recognize themselves in the advertising they see.” She acknowledged that this problem is not just attached to women, but that it affects all people. Advertising has the power to shape the behavior of everyday people, and on deeper level, it creates social and cultural norms. The messages that advertising supports are powerful and should be harnessed to have a positive and more inclusive message.

The executive panel agreed that we, as an industry, have an obligation and responsibility to ensure that people are portrayed in the right way. One way to start this change is through research and measurement – the kind that we didn’t have in the past. Shelly Zalis, CEO of TFQ, discussed a data-driven methodology called Gender Equality Measure (GEM), which identifies unconscious bias in advertising and programming. Zalis shared that, when creating this tool, she was inspired by Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, who said, “You can’t treasure what you can’t measure.”

Overall, the takeaway from this discussion was clear. Damaging stereotypes in advertising are still very real and are greatly perpetuated by status quo thinking. The good news is, change is possible, but we can’t sit and wait for it to happen (and to that end, I’d be remiss not to mention that Mindshare is actually part of WPP’s collaboration with UN Women). Advertisers have a moral obligation to look at their media and marketing through this lens. Mitigating this bias requires active effort from all sides of our industry and the change must start today!