Calling the Ad Industry ‘Lazy’, Unilever Calls for More Progressive Approach in China, Indonesia and India

Unilever's study of ads found that only 4% portrayed women as anything other than slim. (Image: Pixabay)

Calling for a more modern and forward-looking approach to advertising in Asia, FMCG giant Unilever has focused the attention of its ‘Unstereotype’ initiative towards the marketing industry in the region, encouraging it to change current practices.

The focus on Asia comes following an analysis of ads in China, India, and Indonesia that found only 13% of women and 18% of men are shown as being “progressive.”

The ‘Unstereotype initiative, was first launched in 2016 with the aim of ridding advertising of stereotypes across the Unilever brand range globally.


Abundant Bias in Asia

Unilever tapped marketing and media consultancy Ebiquity to analyze 500 TV and online video ads in the beauty and personal care, home care and food categories across different companies that aired between January 1 and July 31 in India, China, and Indonesia.

Some insights from the study:

– Only 2% show women in aspirational or leadership positions

– Just 3% show women and 2% show men over the age of 40.


– Only 4% of women and 1% of men are anything other than slim

– There is no depiction of different sexual orientations or disability

– Only 9% feature male characters in the ads doing childcare or domestic work

– Only 3% portray men as caring fathers.

To battle these trends Unilever is calling on the industry to “work harder” to be more representative.

“Our industry has worked hard to remove harmful stereotypes and must continue to do so,” said Aline Santos, executive vice-president of global marketing and global head of diversity and inclusion at Unilever. “But this agenda is about more than removing harmful stereotypes.”

Unilever will gather its top six creative agencies in APAC to address strategies to tackle diversity and inclusion across the brand’s ad work in the region.

Santos said there is still much work to be done, including research into how to address each market’s particular characteristics.

“No two countries are the same and the discussion around stereotypes can often paint whole groups as one entity,” said Santos. By taking a stronger local action, global impact approach to #Unstereotype, we’ll be able to learn more and act faster to authentically reflect the diversity of the world we live in.”

Indsustry is ‘Lazy’

Santo pulled no punches during a presentation at Spikes Asia, where she pointed the finger of blame directly at the industry, which she called “lazy.”

“We don’t want to be an industry just shrugging its shoulders,” she said according to Campaign Asia. “Our industry has been very lazy – lazy advertising, lazy marketing, lazy creativity. Laziness is damaging creativity, losing audiences, killing brands and most importantly, hurting society.”

Unilever will gather its top six creative agencies in APAC to address strategies to tackle diversity and inclusion across the brand’s ad work in the region saying that efforts must go behind simply ridding the ad industry of current practices, but creating new templates from which ads are created.

“We must work harder to be more representative and inclusive in our portrayals of all people, considering not only gender but other dimensions such as race, class, language, sexuality,” said Santos.

Some signs of progress

Santos points to the award-winning 2016 campaign from India’s Brooke Bond Red Label that featured a band of transgender people as a sign that things are changing.

“Five years ago, or three years ago, you wouldn’t imagine that Brooke Bond would create a band of transgender people, never ever, because we were so traditional,” Santos told MSNBC.


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