ANA Moves to Eliminate Bias Against Women From Ads and Media

Urged on by White House, Advertiser Group Will Track Ads, Measure Change and Showcase Good Examples

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Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty is an example of what the ANA is looking for.
Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty is an example of what the ANA is looking for. Credit: Unilever

The Association of National Advertisers and its Alliance for Family Entertainment are out to eliminate bias against women from advertising and media, launching #SeeHer in an effort backed by the White House and tracked by ongoing consumer surveys.

The initiative comes following five months of talks with the White House and a two-day United State of Women Summit at the White House this week that was attended by more than 50 marketers. The White House is particularly concerned about under-representation of women in the fields of science, technology, engineering and medicine, or STEM, which it believes is tied to how women are portrayed in media, said AFE Chairman and former Walmart CMO Stephen Quinn.

The ANA wants a 20% increase in the "accurate portrayal of all girls and women" in media by 2020. For most of its existence, the AFE has focused mainly on the content of programming, over which advertisers only have indirect control through their pocketbooks. But #SeeHer will target ads over which marketers have complete control.

As part of the effort, the ANA is preparing analyses of the ads created by board members' companies.

To monitor how well advertisers do with their own creative work, the ANA has adopted a data-tracking Gender Equality Measure, called GEM for short, to help identify best-in-class advertising and programming that supports girls and women. A #SeeHer website will show the best ads and content that reflect the initative's message, and the program will be supported by displays at Girl's Lounge events at major industry conferences.

To fuel GEM, research firm ABX, who syndicated service uses consumer surveys to rate every ad it can find on a variety of metrics, is adding gender-related questions to the mix. It will start identifying top-scoring ads on the GEM Index weekly in July.

Among factors that the ANA is looking at is why around two thirds of voiceovers in ads are male, even though ABX data shows ads with female voiceovers are around 3% more effective. That difference probably isn't statistically significant, said ABX President Gary Getto. But by the same token, it shows there's no reason for voiceovers to be predominantly male.

"A lot of the bias is unconscious," said Mr. Quinn, so the ANA wanted to help advertisers uncover it. The AFE and ANA will also evaluating content and programming so advertisers "can really see the good fit programming for making this initiative take off," he said.

Some of the ads that score well on the GEM index "are also some of the most effective ads out there, for example the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty," Mr. Quinn said. Without calling out any examples, he said some of the ads that had very low gender-equality scores also scored very low for effectiveness.

"We had one advertiser say just yesterday that just since joining this campaign she's already changed three ad campaigns she was working on," Mr. Quinn said.

Marketers have less control over the media that surrounds their campaigns, Mr. Quinn noted. "And there's the possibility of programmatic making that even more difficult, because there just isn't the same visibility," he said. But the AFE has been trying the past two years to develop research to show marketers "the content their ads appear in really does matter."

Entertainment agency CAA also pledged in a meeting this week to work with content creators to incorporate this thinking into content development to "accurately portray women and girls in their roles from the onset of the creative process," said an AFE spokeswoman.

"We know that the right advertising environment for women can improve ad effectiveness by as much as 30%," ANA CEO Bob Liodice said in a statement. "So there is a business imperative to truthfully and accurately portray women and girls. More importantly, it's the right thing to do."

"We'll know that the job is done when every CMO and every agency CEO assocated with the ANA never produces an ad that diminishes the role of girls or women in our society," he added.

"We need to show our daughters that nothing is beyond their reach," said Unilever VP-media and digital engagement Gail Tifford, one of the marketers leading the effort.

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