Unilever's formula for avoiding advertising stereotypes

Stephen Whiteside

For decades, Unilever has given women the starring role in ads promoting brands like Knorr seasoning, Hellmann's mayonnaise and Magnum ice cream.

But although female shoppers are generally are the subject (and target) of marketing messages from both Unilever and rival consumer packaged-goods manufacturers, these advertisers often have depicted them as passive, personality-free ciphers with no interests beyond cleaning, looking their best, or preparing the perfect family meal.

Data gathered by Unilever indicates just how uncomfortably that approach sits among today's women, many of whom do not share the perspectives and priorities emphasized by brands in TV commercials, print ads, out-of-home billboards and online videos.

"Forty percent of women don't recognize themselves in advertising," Aline Santos, EVP/Global Marketing at Unilever, reported at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. "Therefore, you can expect the engagement [rate] is not going to be as good as you want. The impact is also off."