Advertising has historically had a problem with perpetrating common stereotypes, particularly around gender, sexuality and race. While efforts have been made to eliminate harmful and regressive stereotypes, the industry could still do more to show people in forward-looking roles.
Analysis carried out by Unilever and Ebiquity in 2016, for example, discovered that while women featured in 80% of ads, 60% featured a negative female stereotype. Only 4% showed women in aspirational roles, 3% depicted women as notably intelligent, and just 0.3% as funny.
Whether we like to admit it or not, our brains love stereotypes, because they make the world around us easier to process. So much of our thinking and behaviour is done on autopilot, and bias is wired into us. This is why, even though the majority of advertisers would be horrified at accusations of discrimination, sometimes brand teams get it wrong in their campaigns. From the Gap Kids ads labelling boys as ‘scholars’ and girls as ‘social butterflies’, to H&M showing a black child in a ‘Coolest monkey in the jungle’ top, it’s easy to get tripped up by unexamined assumptions.