Opinion

Gender aware ads are the remedy for a “toothless, gutless” industry

While some might think talking about gender diversity is dull, there's certainly nothing boring about the work that originates from those discussions. Gender expert Bec Brideson considers some key examples.

Just last week you may remember M&C Saatchi’s TJ Tindall saying all this natter about diversity is boring. He’s not wrong but like a puffer fish who’d eaten one too many starchy crabs, he was bloated with toxic reasoning.

Talking about diversity is boring; doing challenging, innovative work around gender and thereby increasing your brand engagement and bottom line is far more exciting. In fact, you could suggest it may be the remedy to reinvigorate an industry that in Tindall’s words is “toothless, gutless and increasingly anodyne.”

Gender can be used as much more than a filter to create better connect with the financially empowered female audience; it can also be a valuable tool to create resonance with a male audience too. And there are brands out there doing just that; proving they are full of guts and teeth.

Take Tecate, for example.

Tecate is a top selling Heineken brand in Mexico. Pre-gender lens, this beer brand had a history of sexualising women but now recognising a new era, it made a plan to help bring about education and create transformation of gender norms by communicating publicly the big, ugly truth. Using critical social insights and employing the gender-lens they transformed their brand.

Like most beer brands in Mexico, top-selling Heineken beer brand Tecate had relied on a history of sexualising women in their ads.

Bringing on a gender lens however, they made a plan to disrupt the entire category to help bring a re-education of gender norms.

One of Mexico’s biggest issues is the brutal impact of gender violence not only against women, but the additional impact it makes upon children and other members of society. Two out three Mexican women experience violence at the hands of men. In 2015, on average more than 1,000 women a day suffered violence with 65,000 having to be hospitalised because of their injuries. Research has found a clear connection between the consumption of alcohol and the violence incurred. Instead of avoiding the issue entirely, Tecate decided to tackle an issue often swept under the rug by rallying good men and decrying those contributing to it.

The narrative of the film called “Violence” explains that men are not defined by strength, sexuality or toughness. Instead, he is defined by how he treats women: “We don’t need your business, don’t reach for one, we hope you hate it.” The message provokes men who disrespect and demean women to find another beer brand.

Tecate not only created a campaign that addresses gender and masculinity head on, they used advertising spend that could have gone into the Super Bowl reinvesting it to support an NGO and build shelters and programmes for domestic abuse victims.

The use of the gender-lens was successful. The campaign received millions of views, unprecedented coverage nationally and internationally reaching 65 countries. Eight out of 10 comments were positive and it achieved the greatest number of interactions and responses for an ad in Mexico in 2016, taking Gold for the Cannes Glass Lion (the Lion for change) in 2017.

America’s ‘Fearless Girl’ also a Grand Prix winner at Cannes Lions,  showed us that we are hungry for gender insights, not only timely from a moral and social perspective – but also a financial one. The bronze statue facing the raging bull on Wall street was initially a stunt for asset manager ‘SHE Fund’. After just 3 months they experienced 8% growth, a 384% daily increase in trading volume and earned $7.4million in free marketing. In this era of the “transparent box” State Street Trustees owners of She fund have since attracted media attention addressing past gender pay discrepancies, and also calling on the abolition of male-only boards, and actively challenging for more boards to include women.

A refreshing turn for male categories of sport, beer and financial investment, the topic of gender is addressed in ways that add commercial value and brand clout. Say goodbye to tokenism. Flash-in-the-pan femvertising is over. Only brands that walk the talk, and commit to changing culture internally need apply.

Former AFL Commissioner Sam Mostyn sums it up perfectly: “Whether through shareholders or through customer-buying decisions, we’re seeing the public making a decision about the companies they want to support and if we just look at the investor point of view, this is where we’ll see the big changes.”

We’re emerging from an era where the responsibility for women being recognised and treated equally has ironically been incumbent on themselves.

Thankfully the sound bytes escaping from the female echo chambers have been enough to resonate with clever people. Gender-smart teams and cultures, gender-led insights, and gender addressed in brand work now ushers in a new era that screams accountability for the future.

In a post-Weinstein world it is responsible and intelligent leaders of business that will stand up and address the point we’ve arrived at in history. To tackle tomorrow’s issues and run toward the change with arms wide open is to remain current and relevant. And in addressing the needs of all humans – male and female –  we create businesses worth working for, relationships worth investing in and brands worth buying.

Bec Brideson is a gender-intelligence expert. Her first book, BLIND SPOTS: How to uncover and attract the fastest emerging economy, has just been published through Wiley. 

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