While most of the world was stuck at home due to COVID-19, a gym brand released an ad late last year asking people to not let “2020 get the best of them” and encouraged them to hit the gym while showing how those at home were getting unhealthier over time as they ate and watched TV.
On the opposite end of the subtlety spectrum, the British government via an outside agency circulated an ad asking people to “Stay home, save lives,” which depicted women working at home while the man relaxed on the couch. While conversations around sexism and gender equality have increased, it has still to reach the ad world at large. This one isn’t very different from 2014, when a Head & Shoulders ad showed two men are working out in a gym. They are complaining about their house helps as a woman looks on. Suddenly, a voice over comes in, asking them to stop and before they “stopped being a man,” they should get Head & Shoulders shampoo to rediscover “the man they once were.”’
A recent study out of the United Kingdom found that 2 out of every 3 men think gender stereotypes in ads cause them “psychological damage.” The above examples also depict how gender stereotyping in ads negatively affects women, with various studies explaining how television, newspaper and internet advertisements impact awareness, interest, conviction, purchase and post-purchase behaviour of consumers.
According to Devika Kapoor, a New Delhi-based counseling psychologist, the problem lies behind the intention of making ads aspirational for consumers.
“Take for example body spray ads. [These show] that putting on lots of body spray makes men attractive to lots of women, which then improves their life. This is wrong on many accounts,” Kapoor told Re:Set. “First, that women are the only thing missing from a man leading a fulfilling life, and second, that you as your current self aren’t enough. This then negatively impacts the viewers self-esteem and affects their well-being.”
According to Kapoor, ads perpetuating stereotypes can affect a person’s sense of belonging, as they feel distant from the desired social idea, which in turn inflicts psychological damage.
Consumers are finally beginning to see this. New research by EY shows that rather than products, people are gravitating towards values, and are even willing to switch to non-branded products over big brands. The report added 60% of consumers are becoming more careful with how they spend their money, and with growing awareness, brands need to care about values they represent.
“[These show] that putting on lots of body spray makes men attractive to lots of women, which then improves their life.”
“Some companies like OnePlus are woke. Even though they mess up, they try to be sensitive. There are companies like Dell, for example, who aren’t aware of the stereotyping,” an ad executive from Mumbai, who has worked with brands like Linkedin, Nike, OnePlus, told Re:Set. “Even people they outsource the research to are unaware of the stereotyping.”
“Most advertising is dependent on stereotypes. There are many videos online called, “Things Punjabis are tired of hearing,” for example. These videos are popular, but they also enhance stereotypes,” he said. “You may be talking about the lens of things they are tired of hearing, but the jokes are the stereotypes. So you’re laughing at stereotypes.”
Even when brands like Nike are talking about Black Lives Matter, they are still commodifying something, he added. “We may think it’s better, but it’s still commodification of an identity for profits. You’re asking people to take a knee so you can sell a shoe. It’s better than them using traditional stereotypes, but it’s still not OK.”