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Stereotypes in ads: If you can name it, you can tame it

April 2022

The only way to move beyond our unconscious bias is to bring it to the front. With stereotypes, we believe that if you can name it, you can tame it.

Just as in film, tv and literature, stereotypes have been given names for years. Names like the manic Pixie Dream Girl, The Cool Girl and The Femme Fatal have given us the vocabulary to identify and call out sexist stereotypes in movies.

But stereotypes in ads are different to those we see on tv. Ads are meant to represent reality and allow the audience to see themselves in the target market. So the stereotypes we see in ads aren’t mythical portrays of women, they are telling women that this is how society sees them and how they should behave. And what about the women who don’t even exist in ads at all? Had advertising forgotten about whole groups of women because they don’t fit into the mould of these set stereotypes?

This makes them even more important to name and tame, so we created the Female Stereotypes in Ads Guide.

We have spent a lot of time combing through ads from the past few years and have identified 7 common female stereotypes that keep coming up in ads. They are:

The Model Mother, The Passive Little Girl, The Observed Woman, The Sexualised Woman, The Pretty Face, The Magical Grandmother and The Ticked Box.

We also want to bring attention to The Missing Women, the women that don’t appear in ads at all because they don’t come with a pre-defined storyline created by stereotypes. These women are part of the world and deserve to be seen, represented and recognised as much as authentic portrays of stereotyped women do.

This guide isn’t an exhaustive list of all the stereotypes we see in ads. We want this guide to start a conversation, to get everyone thinking crucially of the roles we see women take on in ads. And which women don’t even get seen in ads.

So what do you think? What have you seen?