When, oh when will it be time's up for sexism in ads?

26 Mar 2018  |  Adele Gritten 
When, oh when will it be time's up for sexism in ads?

With recent global initiatives shining a wider light on the treatment of women, it’s about time the same level of scrutiny is applied to the creative industry, writes Adele Gritten

I’m a fan of a Sunday night detective drama series aired on one of the mainstream channels. A rare appointment to view in the Gritten household, I look forward to my weekly fix, lolling on the sofa with a glass of Chablis when the kids have (just about) gone to bed.

For the first few episodes, I don’t pay much attention to the ads (or so I think). By episode three of the new series, I’m scathing about the continued outrageous, grotesquely over stereo-typed portrayal of the modern women (yes, that’s me).

As a firm believer in equality not feminism, I thought I’d dig a bit deeper and watch the ad breaks on catch up, just to check I wasn’t over-reacting to my initial viewing experience. Notwithstanding the fact that the catch up ads were slightly more targeted, (presumably, based on my gender and age profile readily available to the broadcaster from the catch up sign up process and past viewing patterns); - my anger whilst viewing via VoD was equally pronounced.

Ad break 1: Two females eating a well-known chocolate brand talking about snogging (sigh). Well-known face cream telling me how much in need of a detox mask I am (double sigh). Mum cooking Sunday Lamb roast telling us how much she misses the kids since they’ve flown the nest. Lo and behold, sweaty teenager arrives back from University bringing two unannounced mates, but no worries, supermum will just magic up the extra portions (dad nowhere in sight of the kitchen).

Ad break 2: Well-known fizzy drink brand with young, sassy woman talking to camera telling me how “delicious” the product is and “makes me feel good” (pathetic). This is followed by an ad for the FCA (Financial Conduct Authority) warning us to be weary of scams, but of course, this is the first time we see and hear trusted, business savvy Nick Hewer. Presumably, more implicit stereotyping, because only “men” deal with finance (couldn’t afford Karen Brady or another trusted female business aficionado?). Ad number 3 – a car ad depicting a young, carefree couple. Man puts bags in boot. Man, of course, is driving while woman sits pretty in the passenger seat (again, presumably, because, well, women can’t drive or never drive when going out as a couple). Ad break closes with female seductive voice selling me food, but not just any old food...

Ad break 3: Male only cast including Rowan Atkinson with the tag line “get some nuts”. Only men eat this chocolate bar (apparently). The next ad is for toothpaste. Two highly attractive late twenty- something females (dentist and patient) extolling the virtues and results of the brand. Cut to end of ad with male, authoritative voice telling us it works “like a pro” (couldn’t possibly have a female sounding confident to close the ad could we?). Another break closes with female, seductive voice enticing me to buy an Easter egg (where’s the bucket).

Ad break 4: Scantily clad women extolling the virtues of a leading razor brand (sigh). They’re rubbish, don’t work properly and leave you with cuts and bruises if you exert the tiniest amount of pressure whilst using. Segway into well-known premium chocolate brand ad, yet again with a young woman about to orgasm whilst ramming one into her cakehole, bright red lipstick (just in case we hadn’t already got the sexual nuance), no man in sight (because men don’t eat chocolate of course). Ad break closes with another car ad. This time it’s (meant to be) a comic portrayal of a dad and son relationship, culminating in dad teaching son to drive. Yet again, only dads teach their sons to drive. Women just can’t drive, can they?!

I didn’t set out to be sarcastic or jump on a bandwagon in the column. But with recent global initiatives shining a wider light on the treatment of women, it’s about time the same level of scrutiny is applied to the creative industry in terms of how it depicts women and the role of women in ads. #TimesUp boys.

The domestic goddess, passive housewife, subservient women days are long gone. So, let’s hope that initiatives like JOLT not only change the face of an industry that doesn’t reflect society. Let’s also hope they help change how society is reflected in the work that the industry produces. Gender-bias in creative content simply must be tackled!


Adele Gritten is UK managing director, Future Thinking

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10 Dec 2018 

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