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Settling for stereotypes vs creating characters

June 2022

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Female Stereotypes in Advertising: shEqual’s guide to identifying and challenging gender stereotypes in ads Advertising (in)equality: the impacts of sexist advertising on women’s health and wellbeing

When creating ads, you have a maximum of 60 seconds to tell a story, sell a product and build a brand narrative. Many are even as short as 15 seconds.

Working within these tight constraints is always a creative challenge, so some ads rely on standard stereotypes to quickly convey a group that the audience already understands.

But this isn’t a good enough reason to rely on stereotypes. They’re harmful to everyone, especially women and girls.

And advertisers agree. According to the shEqual survey, the majority of male and female respondents believe that gender stereotypes contribute to poor mental health, poor body image and violence against women

85% of respondents also believed better representation makes better ads.

So how do we create better representation?

We can start by building characters rather than inserting stereotypes into stories.

For every person in a script, build a backstory. If the script calls for a mother, perhaps think about the fact that there are more women in the paid workforce today than 10 years ago today, and that four out of five mothers of school-aged are in paid employment.

Or keep in mind that women make up to 70-80% of household purchase decisions, so using the stereotype of the sexualised woman alienates a great percentage of any audience.

To help you build a realistic representation of women in ads, we created the Female Stereotypes in Advertising guide. In this guide we’ve identified 7 female stereotypes we’ve seen in ads from the past few years and provided you with the facts, showing that these stereotypes don’t represent the world we live in.

Use this guide when building characters to help create better representation and better ads.