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Does your ad meet the Campaign Bechdel test?

November 2020

The Bechdel Test is the measure of women’s representation in film, theatre, and literature. To pass, the fiction must simply (1) include at least two women, (2) who talk to each other, (3) about something besides a man.

In 2017, advertising creative Sarah Vincenzini created an adaptation of the Bechdel Test that responds to advertising’s shorter format. To meet the Campaign Bechdel test, an ad simply needs to (1) include at least one unobjectified woman, (2) whose screen-time is not devoted to supporting a man’s story, and (3) who has personal agency or her own narrative.

This might seem like the bare minimum, but you’d be surprised how few ads meet the test.

Research by Women’s Health Victoria shows that women are under-represented in advertising. Not only are there twice as many male characters as female characters in advertising, but far more ads feature men only than women only, with men being six times more likely than women to have their voice featured.

When women are included, they are often portrayed in stereotypical gender roles or sexually objectified. Women are still predominantly portrayed as housewives, mothers, wives, and girlfriends, and in ads for health, cleaning, beauty and fashion products, appliances and furniture. One in ten women is shown in sexually revealing clothing.

This is not a trivial issue. Evidence shows that sexist advertising has negative health impacts for women and contributes to a culture that fuels violence against women.

It’s time for advertisers and creatives to up their game. Does your ad meet the Campaign Bechdel test?