LONDON: A majority of young people in the UK believe that advertising portrays women in a sexualised way but that it could be empowering if done in a more respectful manner.

YouthSight, a specialist in youth and student research, surveyed 1,000 16-24 year olds as part of its State of the Youth Nation which tracks behaviours, attitudes and trends among young adults.

It found that 65% of respondents agreed with the statement that "the way brands and advertising depict women is generally too sexualised".

Women were significantly more likely than men to take this view (78% v 53%). Overall, just 14% disagreed with the remainder neutral.

Men were more supportive of the notion that "advertising has the ability to empower women if it depicts them in inspiring or respectful ways". Almost two thirds (64%) agreed with this, as did 83% of women.

When it came to the practicalities, however, one third of men thought that "brands don't have a responsibility to portray realistic body images and should be allowed to use whatever ads work best".

Four in ten disagreed with this statement as did two thirds of women polled. One quarter of men and one fifth of women were neutral on this subject.

Josephine Hansom, head of youth research and insight at YouthSight, told Marketing Week that gender was one of the concerns that brands should be addressing when communicating with this age group.

"We call it owning the moment, where brands identify an issue or problem and try to be associated with a solution or conviction to improve the situation," she explained.

But she sounded a note of caution as she contrasted the different approaches taken by two recent campaigns – This Girl Can, from Sport England, and Like A Girl, from Procter & Gamble's Always brand.

''This Girl Can is softer and offers a real-life solution [for female participation in sport] rather than the powerful, gendered, universal argument that Always is going for," she said.

"It is a tightrope and you need to be careful in how far you push it."

Data sourced from Marketing Week; additional content by Warc staff