Avoiding Stereotypes in Your Advertising

Written By: Nicole Date: 02.08.2018 Categories: Marketing

“Have you ever seen an ad for a car brand where the woman is driving?”

 This question had been bothering me recently, so I decided to ask my colleagues. I was careful to mention that I didn’t mean the gimmicky “person gets out of sports car to reveal it’s actually a sexy/elderly woman driving the car” type of ad, but the generic “driving down a winding road, changing gears and imagining the future or arriving home with new car to excited husband and kids” type of ad.  

Let’s be honest, if an ad advertising a car features a woman she’s (more often than not) the passenger, the onlooker or the sexy car-feeler. She’s hardly ever the regular, boring car driver. And it’s not that there aren’t enough women driving to be considered the target market for car brands. After all, there’s an entire car insurance company whose core target market is female drivers. 

Of course, it’s not just car brands that are guilty of relying on age-old stereotypes to push their products. Even today, many ads still push outdated perceptions that no one notices until the ad is flighted and then consequently pulled due to the backlash. 

As a brand, it’s easy to make the mistake of never updating your brand strategy to include your developing audience and their evolving needs. But it’s 2018 - your audience will no longer accept excuses and offending them is expensive. 

So, before you get started on your next big campaign, here are a few guidelines for avoiding stereotypes in your advertising. 

Segment, don’t box, your market

Segmenting your target market in your marketing plan is important, specifically when segmenting your market according to demographic, location, preferences etc. It’s difficult to develop one message for all your consumers so segmenting your market simply makes it easier to develop specific messages that resonate with certain consumers within your target market. But this doesn’t mean boxing people and relying on your own assumptions about them. Analyse your target market’s needs so that you can understand them and not so that you can exploit or ridicule them. Always aim to understand how your market has changed over time, what they value, and how their environment is changing. 

Don’t ignore the history 

This is one of the biggest mistakes brands and advertisers make when advertising to a target market they don’t understand. Marginalised groups are victims of years of oppression so if your audience forms part of (or your ad includes) a marginalised group (such as women, people of colour, LGBTQIA community etc.) then you need to be sensitive to their particular issues. Understand the history of stereotypes - and if your ad relies on any of them, particularly in a way that has hurt that group of people before, then scrap it. 

Check social media regularly

People take to social media to talk about everything from politics to fashion. Checking in on what people are talking about should give you a good idea of how they feel about the current political climate or the latest ad. Don’t just look at the latest trending hashtag, actually plug into the conversations. This will help you understand which issues are too sensitive to address and also give you a chance to learn from other brands’ mistakes (because people are definitely calling out problematic brands and their ads on social media). 

Hire a diverse team of creatives 

Honestly, if no one in your team looks the way your primary target market does then you have no business targeting that market. And even if your primary target market is straight white males, having a diverse team of creatives that includes people from marginalised groups, will help ensure that you don’t flight ads that are offensive. If everyone on your team looks the same, there’s the risk that they might have the same assumptions and not have the sense to stop an idea before it’s turned into an offensive campaign. 

Run your idea past others 

Don’t just make decisions at the top and think your own (or your top level management’s) ideas are the beginning and end of your brand. Run the campaign idea past as many people in your company as possible (whether they work directly with the brand or not). Even if one person thinks it’s a bad idea - investigate it.

You would think that no one would need this advice this far into the world’s existence, but stereotyping in adverting is a mistake many brands still make - often, and sometimes without even meaning to. A lot of the time it’s simply because there isn’t enough diversity in the company, awareness around issues or enough of a critical analysis around the target market. Just taking the time to ask “is this offensive?” could help avoid paying the price for offending the ever-connected consumer.