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A study from Unilever, the world’s biggest advertiser, has found that almost half of people from marginalized communities say they have been subject to stereotypes in advertising. 

The research, conducted by Kantar, surveyed 1,500 consumers in the US and UK. The report’s findings suggest widespread dissatisfaction among the public toward the way marginalized communities are represented in advertising. 

What does the report say?

  • Unilever and Kantar’s research found that almost one-in-two people from marginalized communities feel they have been stereotyped ’in some way’ through advertising.

  • 71% of consumers surveyed said advertising was a harmful influence on younger people.

  • Fewer than 20% of those surveyed said they felt represented in advertising.

  • The report found that under-represented or marginalized communities were impacted the most and were ”30% more likely to be stereotyped than the general population”.

  • 55% of women of Asian heritage said ads don’t represent them correctly and 46% of men with a disability said they had experienced negative stereotypes in ads.

  • Meanwhile, 66% of LGBTQ+ aged between 18 and 34 believed that ads only feature people from diverse backgrounds ‘to make up the numbers’.

  • Activist Tarana Burke, the founder of the ’Me Too’ movement, said: “Society and consumers are telling brands out loud that they are hurting. This is the moment for the industry to show it listens to marginalized voices. Underrepresented people need to not just feel included but be included.

  • ”This is what will transform the messages we hear, the images we see, the products we use and how each of these are created. The ad world must lend its talents to lead true change in society. It must listen to the people who are leading these lives and these movements and act on what is heard. When anyone feels represented in the mainstream, it has the power to fulfil the fundamental human need to be heard – one that the industry can actually help deliver on.”

How is Unilever responding?

  • Unilever has said it is widening its 2016 commitment to unstereotype. The company claims its new ’Act 2 Unstereotype’ policy will make ”real, structural changes to the entire marketing process”.

  • Unilever has committed to ”provoke inclusive thinking across the end-to-end marketing process from consumer insight, brand DNA and proposition, marketing mix development, creative development, behind the camera and on-screen portrayals”.

  • It has also vowed to institute an Unstereotype Charter for every one of its hundreds of brands, ban any photoshopping of models in its ads and work with more diverse groups of people in front of and behind the screen. It vowed to accelerate efforts around on-screen representation earlier this year.

  • Aline Santos, Unilever’s chief brand officer and chief diversity and inclusion officer, said: “If we want to see systemic change in society, we need to see systemic change in our industry. Act 2 Unstereotype helps brands create a generation free from prejudice. Inclusive marketing is not a choice any more; we must act now.”

  • The conglomerate claims that in 2020, 98% of its advertising was ’Unstereotypical’ and that 60% of its brand ads were ”strongly progressive”.