Brands in Asia Say They Avoid Gender Stereotypes in Ads – Consumers Disagree

While the vast majority (83%) of marketers in Asia Pacific think they are doing a good job creating advertising that avoids gender stereotypes, audiences disagree says a new report from Kantar that shows two thirds (63%) of people in the region and (62%) in Malaysia believe that advertising conforms to gender stereotypes.

Beyond the deeper social implications, biased advertising affects the bottom line according to Kantar’s research which analyzed 30,000 ads.

“The advertising industry’s failure to contemporize impacts the effectiveness of individual adverts and campaigns,” Kantar said. “Globally, men are 38% more likely than women to be featured prominently in ads. However, the research shows that progressive ads, for example those led by authoritative female characters, outperform other ads. At a high level, this means male-skewed brands are missing out on an average of $9 billion in brand valuation globally.


When both genders appear in ads, men are 38% more likely to be featured more prominently than women.

The report added that “many people see these traditional expressions of men and women in advertising as holding back progress,” with 60% in the APAC region and 63% in Malaysia agreeing that most ads in their country “reinforce rather than help eradicate harmful gender-based stereotypes.”

Kantar’s AdReaction study includes survey responses of 450 global marketers, consumer advertising attitudes among almost 40,000 consumers, and brand equity analysis of over 9,000 global brands to create an in-depth understanding of the role of gender in advertising.

“While half of Malaysians agree that the way their gender is portrayed in advertising is a reflection of reality, the majority also feel that advertising in this country typically conforms to gender stereotypes,” said Ian Kwan, Chief Commercial Officer, Kantar Insights Division.


“However, we know that advertising has the potential to change the conversation. Progressive ads with authentic stories do well with audiences of both genders. Brands that want to journey through this with consumers need to start with ads that are carefully tested, handled sensibly, based on cultural and consumer understanding.”

Key global findings from ‘AdReaction: Getting Gender Right’

  • Average brand value is highest among gender-balanced brands that avoid stereotypes ($20.6bn vs $16.1bn among female-skewed brands and $11.5bn among male-skewed brands); yet just 33% of global brands achieve this balance.
  • Adverts led by authoritative female characters generate more expressiveness (measured via facial coding), in part because these roles are a positive surprise. Authoritative female characters also make ads much more believable and persuasive – attributes which are known to lead to short-term sales boosts.
  • The industry struggles to make great ads starring women.  Ads featuring only women are less impactful overall and less likely to make people feel proud or to generate excitement than ads featuring only men.
  • Creating gender-based creatives is less necessary than has been traditionally imagined. There is no identifiable overall difference in response to ads across gender lines.  Good adverts are usually good for everyone and bad adverts are bad for everyone – irrespective of intended gender targeting.
  • Everyone has a funny bone – humor works well across both genders – but ads featuring only women use comedy less than half the time as ads featuring only men (22% vs 51%).
  • Ad format has a strong role in effectiveness. In particular, online ads are failing to deliver for women; in 2018 they generated 28% less brand impact than among men, and fewer women find online ads to be reliably relevant.

AdReaction recommends some key steps for creatives, media agencies and their clients to achieve more effective engagement across different gender groups:

  • Most brands should “design to the edges” by catering to feminine and masculine needs within the same campaign idea and creative executions.
  • Consistent copy testing which includes gender equality metrics will help you avoid the worst mistakes, and learn how to optimize portrayals
  • Gender balanced creative and media planning teams and processes will likely result in more gender nuanced campaigns
  • Walk the talk beyond the campaign; comprehensive progressiveness programs don’t stop at gender and get embedded far beyond the marketing department.

The ‘AdReaction: Getting Gender Right’ study can be found at here along with details of supporting webinars which will explore the study findings.

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