Only one in ten Britons thinks the ads they see are genuinely representative of people across the country, while a third believe ads set unrealistic expectations, according to a new report.

Project Eden, a study by strategic quantitative research agency The Numbers Lab, was based on contributions from 2,000 British consumers across the UK and examines diversity and inclusion in advertising.

Ads influence people’s views of themselves

This found that a third (32%) of people believe ads influence how they see themselves. A similar proportion (33%) think “ads set unrealistic expectations and put pressure on people”.

Women, for example, are twice as likely to say that they feel ashamed of their body based on what they’ve seen in an advert – with 23% of women stating this is the case vs. 10% of men.

More real people are needed

One in five respondents (20%) also agreed that “the people brands put in their adverts tell us who the brand thinks are valuable and important”. But fewer than 10% said they had recently seen adverts that they feel “represent people from all walks of life across the UK”.

In terms of what people want to see, two fifths (38%) would like ads to present a more realistic portrayal of people in the world, followed by ads that do not resort to stereotyping (36%) and the inclusion of more people with different body types and size (35%)

Sexist ads turn people off brands

The study also gives a commercial signal on the need for brands to act, as one in five (20%) Britons claim “sexist brand advertising puts them off buying from that brand” with this more pronounced for women than men (25% vs. 15%).

Brand owners like Unilever have for several years championed positive gender portrayal in advertising and the Advertising Standards Authority earlier this year introduced new rules on gender stereotyping in ads.

Time to end industry complacency

But the industry generally remains complacent: a 2018 Kantar report found that eight in 10 global marketers think they’re getting gender right in terms of creating advertising that contains gender-balanced content and avoids gender stereotypes; few consumers agree.

There’s no quick fix according to Duncan Southgate, global brand director at Kantar. Brand strategy, media targeting and creative development all need to come under the spotlight if the issues around gender stereotyping are to be addressed (for more details, read his WARC Best Practice paper: Unstereotyped: How brands can get their gender strategy right.); the same holds true for diversity.

As Majbritt Rijs, Managing Director at the Numbers Lab, said of this new research : “[it] lays bare both the moral and commercial imperative to take the path of inclusion.

“Ultimately consumers will switch off from brands that do not represent them or the world around them,” she added, “but more than that – if we exclude certain people, or pigeonhole people based on their gender, sexuality, age or race, we are sanctioning exclusionary behaviour, while reinforcing the notion that some people have a good or rightful place in the world and others don’t.” 

Sourced from The Numbers Lab; additional content by WARC staff