Brands that flip outmoded stereotypes and depict women in roles that have traditionally been associated with men could witness several beneficial effects, according to a study published in the Journal of Advertising Research (JAR).

Karina T. Liljedal, Hanna Berg and Micael Dahlen, all from the Stockholm School of Economics, discussed this subject in a paper entitled, Effects of nonstereotyped occupational gender role portrayal in advertising: How showing women in male-stereotyped job roles sends positive signals about brands.

And their work pointed to “several positive effects of turning away from the routine use” of stereotyped occupational gender-role depictions in advertising.

“When the stereotype was reversed in the studies of this article, so that women were seen in occupational roles that were stereotyped as masculine, in the populations in which the studies were carried out, the effects were overwhelmingly positive,” they reported.

Such a finding drew on three rounds of analysis that aimed to determine brand effects and advertisement attitudes when consumers were exposed to ads that deliberately subverted outdated expectations.

The first study included 224 participants, who responded to four mock-up print ads, two featuring women in a stereotypically masculine occupation – that is, soldier and doctor – and two depicting men in the same roles.

A second study, involving 151 respondents, used the same four ads to try and replicate the results from the first round of analysis, and measured the “feeling of belongingness” respondents felt with people featured in the ads.

The third study informing the JAR paper pre-tested two further mock-up ads – one depicting a woman as a firefighter, and one with a man in this role – with two separate groups of consumers.

Collectively, the results indicated that “when brands do something beyond what is expected, positive results emerge because of consumers’ perceptions of brand effort and brand ability,” the authors wrote.

“Nonstereotyped occupational gender-role portrayals thus join other marketing signals, such as advertising creativity and expense, that advertisers can employ to signal effort.”

This perceived extra effort was “awarded” with greater attention, and bucking stereotypes “evoked more social thoughts”, leading to feelings of social connectedness and favourable views for the ad and the brand.

Put another way, thinking “a bit more about and feeling a little closer to the people portrayed in the advertisement made consumers like the advertisement and the brand a little more,” the scholars asserted.

“The findings presented in this article should be seen as a strong encouragement to advertisers who consider using nonstereotyped occupational gender-role depictions in their advertising,” they added.

Sourced from Journal of Advertising Research; additional content by WARC staff