Gender equality in ads has big impact on sales, finds major retailer's three-year study
Gender equality in ad portrayals generates big purchase increases among females and has a far bigger impact than other measures of creative effectiveness on overall sales, according to a study of more than three years of ads and credit and debit-card transactions for a major U.S. retailer.
The study draws on Gender Equality Index scores, which come from consumer surveys by research firm ABX. Bottom-Line Analytics and Ignite Insights Consulting then matched the ad gender equality scores to contemporaneous credit/debit transaction data from Affinity Solutions, which reports transactions by retailer, date, time, gender, age and other demographics.
The retailer, which couldn’t be named because of a client confidentiality agreement, saw a strong 0.733 correlation (where 0 means no link and 1.0 shows a 100% relationship) between sales growth among women and high GEI scores, which are influenced by whether and how women are portrayed in ads.
Ads’ gender equality scores had almost eight times as much sales impact as did overall creative effectiveness scores from ABX during the final 52 weeks of the study, which ended last October. That’s in part because women accounted for 62% of the retailer’s sales.
Overall, in the year ended last October, the retailer’s card-measured sales to females grew 15%. “Baseline” sales that would have occurred regardless of advertising accounted for 6 percentage points of that growth, according to Bottom-Line Analytics, a marketing mix analytics firm. Long-term effect of prior media spending accounted for 4 points of growth, short-term effect of recent media spending for 0.9 points, gender equality scores (GEI) for 3.1 points, and overall creative effectiveness scores for 0.4 points.
It was common sense that gender equality scores would boost sales with women, but the size of the impact was a surprise, says Seda Pazarbasi, president of Ignite Insights Consulting and a former global marketing and strategy insights director for Coca-Cola Co.
“Now we can see the size of the impact relative to what we already thought was important,” she says. “That was amazing to me.”
Michael Wolfe, CEO of Bottom-Line Analytics, said he was particularly surprised to see how much impact gender equality scores had compared to overall creative effectiveness scores—which are the numbers many marketers have traditionally used to make go/no-go decisions on running ads.
Wolfe says he approached ABX last year with the idea of using Affinity’s ability to segment gender within credit card transactions to help test the hypothesis that gender equality scores affect sales. Unlike loyalty card data, which generally comes at the household level, Affinity measures by individual shopper.
GEI scores have become an industry standard for measuring how accurately ads portray women and gender roles since the Association of National Advertisers’ licensed the data, which it uses under the name of the Gender Equality Measure, to help launch its SeeHer program in 2016.
This is the first study to delve in depth into the impact ad gender equality scores have on sales for any individual marketer. The ANA did last year publish a report showing individual ads with high GEM scores also produce strong sales. But this study covered three years, and the impact of 860 individual ads matched against credit card transactions from the times the ads ran.
Several marketers from such companies as AT&T and Procter & Gamble Co. have said they use GEM or GEI scores in decision making. But ABX President Gary Getto says use of the measure tends to be more occasional than regular.
“In terms of measuring all their ads and building it into their analytics and really paying attention to it,” Getto says, “I think that’s being done by very few advertisers.” He’s hoping, of course, the new research makes use of gender equality scores more common.