Women don’t like advertising says new International Women’s Day survey from Engine

There’s a big new survey released today to coincide with International Women’s Day claiming, yes you’ve guessed it, that UK brands don’t adequately represent/speak to women.

The research is from Engine’s Partners Andrews Aldridge.

Among the findings are:

1/ 76 per cent of women don’t feel represented in advertising and 86 per cent think brands fuel old-fashioned stereotypes, despite women accounting for 80 per cent of all purchases made. And, rather more interestingly, that:

2/ Women feel that social media is holding them back and putting unnecessary pressure on them. 65 per cent of women would not be disappointed if social media ceased to exist tomorrow.

It goes on to say that women feel particularly let down by advertising in certain sectors. Only 20 per cent think that the automotive sector represents them accurately. The majority of women also feel misrepresented by financial services (61 per cent) and fashion (64 per cent). 60 per cent can’t relate to beauty advertising.

86 per cent also think that brands depict a stereotypical image of the modern British woman. This is particularly evident in advertising aimed at mothers. 70 per cent of women believe brands don’t understand their family lives, and 58 per cent think that the image of families presented by brands is old-fashioned.

Women also believe the inability of brands to mirror their lives is due to persistent societal inequality. 93 per cent believe that men and women are still judged by different standards and 91 per cent think that companies and brands need to take more responsibility for how women are portrayed.

Engine CEO Europe and Asia Pacific Debbie Klein (below) says: “It is unacceptable that in 2017, women still don’t feel represented by advertisers. When 76 per cent of women don’t see themselves in advertising, it’s obvious something’s gone wrong. As marketers, we have a responsibility to reflect and effectively engage all women, but too often we resort to quick fix stereotypes.

“There is also a clear business incentive and brands that adapt will be the ones that will thrive in years to come.

“Of course diagnosing the problem is far easier than finding a solution. There is no silver bullet, but there are some simple principles which can be applied and adapted.”

But does this actually get us anywhere useful? Klein is right to say that there’s no silver bullet but is it worth looking for one? What you get out of research rather depends on the questions you ask and I’m pretty sure 80 per cent of men would probably say that ads don’t represent them or communicate effectively if you put the question a certain way. And if women buy 80 per cent of these things, spending £18 trillion a year globally or some such vast amount then some of the communication must be getting though – otherwise they wouldn’t. Advertising is about selling, as David Ogilvy (a man, admittedly) used to say. Not about restructuring your life (which he didn’t say but probably because he didn’t think it at all relevant).

The agency Ogilvy founded has given us Dove advertising with its relentless focus on “real beauty,” which has about as much of a restructuring element as advertising can easily support. Since it launched five years or so ago there’ve been countless imitators. So you can’t convincingly maintain that some advertisers at least aren’t doing their bit.

A final quibble. Brands aren’t some independent entity floating about in the ether – much as agencies of all persuasions would like to pretend they are – but products produced and sold by brand owners. Yet we talk about them as though they have a life and responsibilities of their own. If we abandoned this folly we might get more rather more useful findings from research.

PS. Would like to know a bit more about women disliking and distrusting social media and, indeed, wishing it would go away. But surely half or more of its zillions of users are women? Perplexing.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.