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How to do your own ad analysis

September 2022

Every month in our newsletter The Round Up we analyse new ads from the past month for the way they represent women, men and marginalised groups. This month we are sharing some tips on conducting your own ad analysis.

By doing your own ad analysis you will think more critically about the ads you create and consume, and the impact that advertising has.


Starting your ad analysis

A good place to start your ad analysis is with the three P’s, from The Unstereotype Alliance’s resource, The Marketing Communications PlaybookPresence, Perspective and Personality.

P1. Presence: Are women present in ads?

But beyond that, what kind of women are present in ads? Do they represent only a certain body type, ability, race? Most people we see in ads are white, able-bodied, heterosexual and thin. This is not only misrepresenting a picture of what modern Australia looks like, it also sends a dangerous message that these are the most valuable traits for women to have in society.

We can also look at the types of ads in which women are present or absent. You can count on one hand how many women are in pub scenes, construction ads, or representing finance brands. There are twice as many male characters compared to female characters in ads, and men get four times more screentime than women.

Not only is the gender ratio far from equal, but a limited range of representations means that most women don’t see themselves portrayed accurately by the female characters that do appear. Many women don’t see themselves at all.

Unequal representation of women mirrors the power discrepancy in our society, but it also reinforces by normalising it. Advertising has the power to disrupt this story by rejecting gender discrimination in Australia.


P2. Perspective: who’s point of view are we seeing this story from?

This is also often referred to in cinema critique as The Male Gaze.

The Male Gaze refers to the common practice where women in the media are viewed through the eyes of a heterosexual man and are represented as passive objects of male desire. In advertising, this can be seen in ads for women’s underwear, shampoo and activewear, among others, where a product designed for women is marketed towards men through sexualised imagery that objectifies and sets unrealistic beauty standards for women.

This not only encourages people to view women as objects, but it also creates unrealistic ideas of female attractiveness and increasing body dissatisfaction in women and girls.

P3. Personality: Do the female characters have personalities that feel authentic?

Are they funny, caring, strong, thoughtful and respected?

This is where stereotypes really come into the picture. Such as women shown predominately in the kitchen or caring for children. Their characters lack personality that can be communicated through humor, hobbies, and work outside the home. At our SH!FT event (more on that to come soon!), our host Alex Lee said to our panel “I have something I would like to request… The mum’s never the funny one, the idiot, the clumsy one, the buffoon – I’d like more buffoonish mothers!”

Characters in ads are too often shown as one dimensional, but that dimension is often sending the message that women and girls must adhere to a set of social norms to be accepted.

The representations we see in advertising influence our beliefs, aspirations and behaviour. The more children and adults are exposed to gender stereotypes in mass media, the more likely they are to believe in narrow ideas about what it means to be a man or woman.


Digging deeper

Beyond the 3 P’s, there is a lot of nuance in doing an ad analysis, especially when looking at the representation of women.

When doing our ad analysis each month, we use a variety of feminist tools to apply a gender lens, like looking at the drivers of violence against women or using a norms, practices and structures framework. We also love to use the framework from Campaign Bechdel.

You can use these too. If identifying stereotypes is tricky, we can help. We have have identified 7 common female stereotypes show in ads today to help you with your analysis, content creation, and strategy. Check them out in our SHI!FT Female Stereotypes in Ads Resource.

Identifying these stereotypes are a great place to start when developing your analysis lens. The seven stereotypes for women and girls in ads we identified are: The Model Mother, The Passive Little Girl, The Observed Woman, The Pretty Face, The Sexualised Woman, The Magical Grandmother and The Ticked Box.

We compared these stereotypes with the stats, the reality of women living in Australian today, and found that they weren’t based on market research but were instead reductive and harmful stereotypes that reinforce outdated ideas of women’s roles.

We encourage you to familiarise yourself with who each character is and see how many times you spot them in ads. But they’re only the start. Once you start doing your own analysis you may see a different picture.

Maybe you’ll start noticing a different pattern emerging, a different archetype of womanhood that keeps coming up in ads over and over again.


So where to now?

You might start asking yourself some questions from the 3 P’s when you see ads. Or you might start noticing some stereotypes we saw in the ads you view or make now.

But importantly, you might start seeing new patterns emerge. Maybe you’ve seen a nagging wife in a few ads, or a bumbling dad, or something we haven’t spotted yet.

That’s good, that means you have your ad analysis on! Spotting patterns heightens your awareness the narrow story being told about women and girls and its impact on gender equality. But we can start a new narrative. One that shows the breadth our lives and authentically reflects childhood expression. Telling stories that play with the feminine and masculine in all of us without the reductive stereotypes.

Keep up the questions and working your gender lens muscle.

I can promise you one thing – once you turn the gender analysis on you can’t turn it off. Ads will never feel the same, but we will all be the better for it.