#Unstereotyping our ads: Why it’s important and where we are so far

In 2016, we set a challenge to #Unstereotype and move to progressive portrayals of people in our ads.

Unilever believes that advertising has the power to be a positive influence on culture

Lady wearing headscarf Man and woman laughing Women laughing together

Today, many of the depictions consumers see across industry advertising are stereotypical and outdated. They represent a view of the world our consumers don’t aspire to or relate to. Indeed, 40% of women in a recent Unilever study reported that they did not relate at all to women they saw in ads. At the same time, Unilever’s research has shown that progressive ads are 25% more effective and deliver better branded impact.

We launched #Unstereotype to address this gap and to eliminate outdated stereotypes from advertising, while creating communications that resonates more strongly with our consumers.

“This is not a moral issue, it's an economic issue,” said Keith Weed, Unilever’s Chief Marketing and Communications Officer. “We will create better advertising if we don't depend on the use of outdated stereotypes.”

We set three #Unstereotype goals

To land this vision, Keith laid out a three-part approach to making the shift based on the role, personality and appearance of people in the ads. Through #Unstereotype, Unilever’s marketers strive to:

  1. Portray people in roles that relate to their aspirations and broader achievements rather than just their responsibilities;
  2. Show characters with personalities that feel authentic, distinctive and characterful; and
  3. Represent diverse appearances and beauty in a way that is enjoyable, non-critical and a positive source of self-expression.

We’re on a journey and proud of the progress we are making

#Unstereotype is not about a few stand-out pieces of communication. It is about change, at scale, everywhere, and on everything our brands touch. This is about fundamental shifts in strategy and systems to support #Unstereotype. To that extent, we have engaged every one of our brands in this journey.

We ensure that all our ads go through full preview testing and are evaluated by consumers for their level of progressiveness on role, personality and appearance. In the past year, we have seen a 24% increase in progressive consumer assessments of Unilever ads.

We believe the change must happen across the industry

For Unilever, these figures are good news, but we know there is more to do and we’re taking action. “Brands across our portfolio – from Brooke Bond to Hellmann’s, Dove to Axe – have been producing iconic communications that help break down gender barriers,” explains Unilever’s Executive Vice President, Global Marketing, Aline Santos.

“We’ve seen true progress in our industry, but it doesn’t go far enough,” adds Keith Weed. “Our job isn’t done until we never see an ad that diminishes or limits the role of women and men in society. 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.”

Dove: #MyBeautyMySay: Real women, real stories

It’s become the norm to judge women based on appearance and use their beauty to impose limits on their lives. In fact, Dove’s global research revealed that seven out of ten women said they got more comments about their appearance at work than about their achievements.

Dove’s #MyBeautyMySay campaign features stories of amazing women who stand up for their own beauty, refusing to let comments about their looks hold them back.

Among the real women featured are Rain, an androgynous model who was called mannish and ugly when she was growing up. Now she challenges the fashion industry by representing brands that don’t ask her to pick a side, male or female. Jessica also appears in Dove’s ads. She used to get told that only skinny girls could dress well. Today she’s an influential fashion icon and uses her blog to show that size doesn’t matter when it comes to style.

Find out more about #MyBeautyMySay

Knorr: Love at first taste: Showing that the love of flavour can bring people together

We are witnessing a massive rise in people’s interest in food and a progressive democratisation of cooking. Traditional gender roles around food preparation have blurred, and cooking has become much more inclusive and on trend.

Knorr wanted to reflect and lead this changing face of cooking globally and, by doing so, be relevant, inspirational and progressive.

Knorr is about great food and flavour – neither of which are gender-specific insights. The Love at first taste campaign moved away from showcasing ‘mum’ cooking and being the ‘meal provider’. Instead, it appealed to millennials on their terms – through a shared love of cooking – by portraying men and women cooking for each other.

Axe: #IsItOKForGuys: Redefining masculinity

It’s not just women who are portrayed in stereotypical ways in ads, men face it too, and in its new ad campaign Axe seeks to readjust ‘toxic’ portrayals of masculinity and help liberate guys so that they feel it’s OK to be themselves.

The ad campaign was based on a research finding that revealed 72% of men have been told how they should behave and showcases real questions that were Google searched by men. The questions include: is it OK to be skinny? Wear pink? Have long hair or not like sport? The ad also offers consumers the chance to explore the answers online.

Brooke Bond: #SpeakYourHeart: Tackling tensions globally

Last year Brooke Bond Red Label’s 6 Pack was awarded the Grand Prix Glass Lion in Cannes, for a campaign that shattered stereotypes in India by celebrating a gender identity that has traditionally not been accepted. The brand created ‘6 Pack’ – India’s first transgender band – spreading a message of inclusiveness and encouraging people to become more accepting, break barriers and bond over a cup of tea.

This year, Brooke Bond has continued to banish stereotypes in its ads by identifying locally-relevant tensions around the globe from India to Saudi Arabia, providing authentic portrayals of gender and using real stories to spark debate.

Sunsilk: Hijab Recharge: empowering girls who wear hijabs

Sunsilk continues to lead this agenda by providing unstereotypical role models with its new range for hijab wearers called Hijab Recharge. Its communication shows a young Taekwondo athlete who is also a proud hijab wearer. She doesn’t see the hijab as a restriction, but rather as an enabler that allows her to express her personality and interests even more. The brand positions her as a source of inspiration, not only for hijab wearers but also for other girls who want to challenge social norms and craft their own exploration journey.

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