Let me ask you all — what have been the most memorable online social campaigns of the past year? Would it be #metoo? Or #TimesUp?

Civic movements around the issue of gender inequality have captured the imagination of tens of millions of people around the world. They’ve also caught the attention of politicians and governments. According to the World Bank and the World Federation of Advertisers, 87 legal changes towards gender equality were made in 65 countries worldwide in 2017 and 2018.

Iceland became the first country globally to introduce laws meant to ensure equal pay for both men and women.

Long perceived as a male-dominated industry, the advertising sector has a responsibility to become part of a wider global movement that aims to break down gender stereotyping. For far too long, advertisers and agencies have not challenged incorrect gender portrayals. Rather, they’ve reinforced a notion of what was, with women being portrayed as the homemakers and men the wage-earners.

The advertising industry has struggled to portray both women and men realistically. In many parts of the world, including our own, women and men are often depicted in outdated generalisms which don’t reflect their aspirations.

This criticism is especially true of advertising depicting women. According to “Adweek”, women control an estimated 85 per cent of purchasing choices, yet over 91 per cent of them feel that marketers don’t understand them.

Let go of gender bias

What is clear to me and my colleagues in the Advertising Business Group is that we must do a better job in creating advertising that is free of gender bias. It’s not only the right choice, it’s also good for business.

Firstly, women control the majority of spending worldwide (65 per cent according to the World Economic Forum). Secondly, consumers are increasingly looking to brands to make a positive difference in society. Delivering a progressive, gender-neutral message which promotes equality for both men and women, boys and girls, is one clear way of meeting that demand.

Consumer engagement bears this out. Research by the US-based ANA has found that brands which deliver progressive ads have been shown to be associated with a higher purchase intent of more than 25 per cent for all consumers, and 45 per cent for women only.

We owe it to all of our consumers to portray them positively, without any form of bias, be it conscious or unconscious. Brands, creatives and publishers have got to make gender “un-stereotyping” a priority. My belief is that cross-industry bodies such as the ABG will play a major role in making this vision a reality.

It’s also fitting that, in partnership with the ABG, UN Women has announced their intention to launch the Unstereotype Alliance in the Gulf during the UAE’s Year of Tolerance.

Cross-industry partnerships that bring together brands, agencies, publishers and governments have the potential to not only tackle the widespread prevalence of stereotypes that are often perpetuated through advertising, but also to ensure that this type of gender bias becomes a thing of the past.

I truly believe that time will soon be up on gender stereotyping in the Gulf. If you are a brand owner or manager, an agency or a publisher, join with me and the ABG as we seek to call an end to gender bias in the region’s advertising.

— Elda Choucair is Vice-Chair at Advertising Business Group.