Gender Roles Are Changing – So Why Aren’t Ads?

I’ve been meaning to write about this for some time now, but I’ve barely had a chance to get out of the kitchen to do so.

I know what you’re probably thinking, “here we go again, another feminist rant”. Well, before you roll your eyes (they’ll get stuck up there, you know), hear me out.

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Who is the typical lead role in ads for cleaning products? Kitchen appliances? Childcare products? Yep, that’s right, a woman.

Why is that?

Studies have found that cleaning, housework and childcare duties are typically performed by females. So of course, companies are going to target that demographic; I mean, it would be silly to not target your primary users, right?

If we’re going to picture ourselves using products, the ads need to be relatable, and what other way is there than to be similar to the person using the advertised product?

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But, it’s a cycle.

Products are aimed at women because women are the primary users of said products. But women are the primary users because they’re always the demographic shown using the products.

These products are aimed at women, so women buy them. So they continued to be aimed at women, who continue to buy them. Do you see where I’m going with this?

Women will see these ads and think “oh, that’s aimed at me, I should be using that”.

Men will see these ads and think “oh its aimed at women, it’s not relevant to me” and thus not pay attention. And vice versa for male-targeted advertising.

If it’s not aimed at you and it’s not for you, why would you go buy it? I don’t see ads for chainsaws and think “hmmm, must get me one of those.”

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Ads don’t just sell products, they sell lifestyles and societal norms too. They create desire. To achieve the ‘desired’ lifestyle shown in the ad you should act how the actors are acting, use what they’re using, behave how they’re behaving. You should picture yourself as them.

It just so happens that the ‘desired’ lifestyle tends to consist of sexist and old-fashioned gender roles. Gender roles which reflect a sexist and old fashioned society.

But, things have changed are changing. More men are helping out around the house and with child care. Women are leaving the kitchen to go out to work and have careers. Men *gasps* make their own sandwiches.

Yes, our society does ~sadly~ tend to follow traditional gender roles – but maybe that’s because that’s all  we see? In a way, these ads reinforce the sexist and old-fashioned gender roles.

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Surely if cleaning and childcare products were targeted at males, then more males would use them? If you show women using home decor products and gardening tools, maybe we’d use them more because we would be able to see ourselves using these products? (I mean I personally wouldn’t but that’s not the point)

My point is, ads should be changing to reflect the changing society that we live in. Not reflecting the society we did live in. Do they not use PESTLE? Please tell me I didn’t sit through 5 years of hearing about PESTLE analysis to find out companies don’t actually use it.

– Brief recap: PESTLE is a ‘fun’ way to remember the components of external market influences; Political, Economic, SOCIAL, Technological, Legal and Environmental. My GCSE Business Studies teacher would be so proud. Basically companies are meant to analyse what’s going on in the world around them and be aware of changes, like yano, women being allowed to work and not being forced to be housewives? Wee things like that.

Companies and advertisers need to respond to these societal changes. I mean, why limit yourself to 50% of the population? Targeting both sexes gives you access to a whole other demographic. Double the potential customers, double the potential sales, double the potential dolla.

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Now, don’t get me wrong, we have come on a bit from the old days of women in aprons baking pies and cleaning while their husbands are busy at work or ignoring their children.

There have of course been ads with women doing DIY, men changing nappies (yes, you can do it too) and cleaning, and- dare I say it, women working. But the sad thing is, these ads aren’t the norm, they’re the rarity.

I think we need to see less distinct gender roles in advertising (and in general, for that matter). After all, how can you expect society to progress if you don’t show what it could and should be like? Equality. Make that the ‘desired’ lifestyle.

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If you show multiple genders using the products, then multiple genders will buy and use them. Then you can target multiple genders who will continue to buy and use them.

Like I said, it’s a cycle. But I think advertisers need to start pedalling.

 

Niamh Murray is a 3rd year BSc in Communication, Advertising & Marketing student at Ulster University, currently on a placement year at The Irish News. She can be found on Instagram: @_neeev, Facebook: Niamh Ni Mhuirí and LinkedIn: Niamh Murray.

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