Gender equality is less a hot topic than a burning issue right now. With International Women’s Day on 8 March, the7stars’ Frances Revel delve into what Brits really think about gender equality in 2018 and how that might impact advertisers’ media strategies.

Brewdog's 'Pink IPA'

To find out, we ran a series of questions past the British public as part of the latest wave of our quarterly consumer confidence and attitude tracking survey, The QT. The headlines made for interesting, and at times startling, reading, and pointed to a complex picture.

For example, we found that more than a quarter of British millennial men (27%) think gender parity already exists. That’s nearly twice the national average of 14% and almost three times the proportion of women of the same age (10%). Rather confusingly, millennial men are a demographic more likely to consider themselves feminists (13%) against a national male average of 7%. Is there a sense that their job is done because they are prepared to identify with this term?

Our research also uncovered a degree of latent scepticism about feminism from some demographics, also highlighting a wider misunderstanding about the different movements in this space. For example, 29% of those surveyed said international days for women and men should be replaced by a single international day for equality. So how can we interpret this conundrum?

Ultimately, it brings to light the plethora of grey areas when it comes to the gender agenda. It underscores the difficulty for brands in navigating these shark-infested waters   within their ad campaigns. Increasingly we’re seeing people expect brands to get involved in this debate – a fifth of people surveyed held this view – but there are very real implications in companies aligning themselves with high profile events such as International Women’s Day.

Brands must be prepared for their actions to invoke reaction. This is something pugnacious BrewDog discovered, or some argue invited, this week when launching their new ‘Pink IPA’. The campaign was launched as a "send-up of the lazy marketing efforts targeting the female market” - only to be met by fierce backlash in some quarters.

Other brands have taken a more subtle approach, finding interesting ways to showcase gender roles without the fanfare. Colman’s, for example, quietly and appropriately addressed it in their TV ad where a father comforted his daughter by making a shepherd’s pie. More recently, BT Mobile turned the absent breadwinner cliché on its head by showing a female nurse watching her daughter’s first steps on Skype.

These examples touch upon universal experiences and emotions to great effect, while also challenging stereotypes along the way. They are less combative and direct, but a crucial part of this narrative.