Brands must ditch stereotypes of women to boost sales – Effie report


Marketing needs to ditch traditional out-of-date stereotypes of women, in order to drive up sales and improve brand equity.

That’s according to a new report from marketing effectiveness firm Effie Worldwide and Ipsos, the world-leading research and insights organisation.

Ditching stereotypes

The report, A Woman’s Worth: How Better Portrayal Is Good For Business found that marketers need to rid themselves of outdated representations of women once and for all, to increase sales and improve the perception of their brands.

This is especially true now, at a time of economic slowdown and in the context of the cost-of-living crisis.

The report reflects on the fact that advertising campaigns with a strong Gender Equality Measure (GEM score) in the Ipsos ad database which showed women in a variety of roles, moving away from more traditional representations, were 24% more likely to see an increase in short term sales, and 28% more likely to an improvement brand equity.

The call for more accurate representation comes at a time when the 2023 Ipsos Global Trends Report has found that one in three people in the UK today still agree that the main role for women in society is to be good wives and mothers.

In a blow for the women’s movement, the figure (29%), is up five percentage points, from 24%, 10 years ago.

Alarmingly, much of that increase is being driven by 16–24-year-olds, with a staggering 38% in agreement with the idea that a woman’s main role should still be based around her husband and her children.

Effie and Ipsos reported that brands must push back and depict women in a more varied light to drive up sales.

“The business case is clear.” said Juliet Haygarth, Managing Director at Effie UK. “Marketing drives growth, but at its most powerful it can influence a positive change in culture.

“What’s great about this report is it demonstrates that the two agendas are completely aligned.

“Brands have an opportunity right now to drive commercial success by shaking up how they represent women (and men) in the work they produce.”

“The purpose of this report isn’t just to serve up the theory and highlight the issues, but to give marketers ideas they can use in the here and now to tap into the opportunity effectively.

“Picture a world where women and girls finally see themselves portrayed accurately in the media, embracing their full potential.”

According to the report, brands compound the traditional view of women in marketing in three main ways: perpetuating the power dynamics between men and women (for example in financial advertising, where men are often seen as the decision makers, while women are shown clutching piggy banks); through the deletion of women (fewer women shown and many fewer in leadership roles); and through harmful stereotypes (showing women doing domestic chores single handedly).

Samira Brophy, Senior Director, Creative Excellence, Ipsos, said: “I believe there’s a misconception that there isn’t much headroom left for brands to make a splash with non-traditional female representation.

“The Ipsos Gender Equality Measure (GEM) database shows that it is not a ‘been there, done that’ situation at all. Very few ads depict women as athletes, STEM professionals, business owners, and artists.

“There is a critical need for more accurate and diverse gender representation in advertising. This not only fosters equality and respect, but also drives business performance.”

The report includes recommendations for driving change and delivers insights and practical tips that marketers can actually use, underlined by Ipsos data, insights and analysis, and illustrated by Effie award-winning case studies which have delivered in the real world.

The report points to recent Effie effectiveness awards winners to highlight the need to show women in a variety of roles, including Secret, a deodorant brand in the US which launched the ‘Just#WATCHME’ campaign (below) to address the lack of visibility of women in sport, and as a result saw an 8.8% uplift in sales.

New hope: Brands like Secret are replacing outdated stereotypes with inspirational campaigns for women.

It also highlights the Effie 2022 Gold winner Dove and its ‘Toxic Influence’ campaign, which saw an increase in sales of 10%.

“There is clear commercial benefit for brands willing to actively feature a range of women in an authentic way” said Haygarth.

“Marketers need to tap into the opportunities for change to give their brands a real advantage in the market.”