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Can't Cook And Don't Have Kids: What Advertising Says About Asian Men

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Speaking at Spikes Asia last month, Aline Santos, Executive VP of Global Marketing and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at the FMCG giant, urged advertisers across Asia to push for more progressive portrayals of people within their ad campaigns.

Fresh from taking on outdated stereotypes within the music, TV and movies industries during the summer, the Unstereotype Alliance is certainly not one to duck a challenge.

But controversial campaigns, such as Hong Kong brand Giordano, which recently found itself in hot water after it published an ad campaign on Facebook that would have made even the most sexist of Mad Men execs blush, plus startling stats stated by the London-based Brazilian on stage at Spikes revealed the size of the task ahead.

According to independent research conducted by Unilever of industry-wide advertising across China, India and Indonesia, only 1% of ads in APAC showed women as intelligent, only 3% showed women over the age of 40, not a single spot showed anyone with a disability, only 3% showed men as fathers and 0% of ads showed a man cooking.

Hardly surprising then that the same research found that 13% of adverts featuring women and 18% of adverts featuring men in APAC could be considered progressive.

So how do you solve a problem like eradicating outdated advertising stereotypes across an entire region?

Unilever has launched a series of local initiatives and partnerships to tackle the issue on the ground and look into the root causes. It’s also asked its top six creative agencies in the region to look into what needs to be done to tackle diversity and inclusion across the entire creative value chain.

The simplest way of doing this would be to broaden the talent pool creating the ads in the first place. After all, is it really any surprise that women are unfairly depicted in advertising when you consider that 93% of ads are made by men?

How can advertising engage in authentic conversations with half of the APAC population when the ad industry is dominated by men? There’s certainly no lack of talented female writers, directors and producers to give these women a voice, but is the industry ready to listen?

Surely, the best way for brands to stay relevant to the next generation of women is to aim for equal representation of brilliant male and female talent.

Of course, it’s not just about how advertising portrays women and gender roles, it’s also about how it represents people with different sexual orientations, ethnicities, abilities and social backgrounds. But nothing is really going to change unless the industry is willing to accept that it needs to change the way it recruits creative talent.

Rather than going back to the same people at the same agencies year after year, brands across APAC should be prepared to look further afield for the best talent. There are thousands and thousands of incredible global filmmakers of all backgrounds ready to pick up their cameras to help breathe fresh new life into an industry going stale at the edges.

Technology has put a world of cutting-edge talent within a touch of a button - but are brands ready to press it?

Such a reluctance to embrace change is something Santos addressed in her Spikes speech, explaining that when Unilever started its initiative, the FMCG giant’s execs were left scratching their heads why 40% of consumers said they did not recognise themselves in advertising. It then analysed the state of advertising over the last half-century and found that not much has changed.

Santos said: “We have been repeating ourselves for the last 50 years and that is not right. There is something we need to do differently. Zero representation of men cooking and a lot of men in Asia love to cook. Why are we not representing them? Fathers, only 3% of ads in Asia are showing men as fathers and there are billions of fathers in Asia. Women are super leaders in the industry, but no representation of them leading in the ads in Asia.”

But what’s holding the industry back? Why is the industry still finding it hard to eradicate stereotypes? Well, speaking to The Drum Asia after her speech, Santos was in no doubt. “I don't think it is because of a lack of understanding, creativity or brilliancy. People are amazingly intelligent in this industry. We have the best minds working in this industry,” she said.

“The only excuse why we are repeating ourselves over and over again about diversity and inclusion is laziness. Creative people can sometimes be lazy, as well as marketers, that is why we need to call attention to this laziness and how important it is to fight this laziness and rebel against it.”

We could not agree more. It is time to rebel. It is time for change. It’s time to press the button.

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