Do TV ads still display an outdated attitude to gender?

A new survey from Havas Creative examines attitudes toward gender, nudity and the depiction of the sexes in advertising


The ad industry has come under renewed pressure recently regarding its depiction of gender roles. In Cannes this year, Unilever and the UN launched the Unstereotype Alliance, aimed at “banishing stereotypical portrayals of gender in advertising” while, in July, the ASA announced plans to tighten regulations on the issue following its Depictions, Perceptions and Harm report which found that harmful stereotypes can “restrict the choices, aspirations and opportunities of children, young people and adults”.

Havas Creative’s The Future Is FeMale study sought to measure how far female equality has come by surveying more than 12,000 men and women in 32 countries. In a finding that is sure to give many brands further pause for thought, almost half of UK women surveyed said they resent how women are represented in a lot of advertising, compared to less than a third feeling the same about the portrayal of men.

Just under half of all those surveyed in the UK said they felt TV ads show too many outdated stereotypes (47.8%) with women agreeing more strongly than men (50% vs 45.2%). Only 27% of people said they resent the way men are depicted in ads, with 29.6% of men agreeing compared with 24.8% of women.

The survey also revealed a great deal of opposition to female nudity in advertising – from women themselves: 93% of woman do not enjoy watching ads showing semi-naked women. It seems as though men (who, of course, had less of an issue with watching semi-clothed women) are not so keen on nudity when it is applied to them either – more than half said they don’t enjoy seeing male skin on show.

Perhaps the more intriguing results from the survey were around questions of gender. A majority of women (52%) and 44% of men surveyed agreed with the statement: “I do not believe in set genders; gender is fluid, and everyone can be what they feel they are.” Following recent media panics about gender-specific labels for clothing, Havas found that 61% of women and 46% of men believe children should be raised in as gender-neutral a way as possible so as to avoid rigid gender restrictions. In comparison, however, 39% of women and 54% of men would still prefer to see girls and boys raised with gender-specific clothing and toys.

The report’s authors suggest that these results point toward an ‘agendered future’ in which gender distinctions, particularly around certain character attributes, are fading.

And the majority of those surveyed believe that men and women are equally creative.

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