Male sexism and the modern marketing minefield

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Over the last 12 months here on the Smoking Gun blog we’ve tackled a range of issues that directly impact on our work as a leading marketing, PR, and comms agency. One of which is sexism, and the way in which gender stereotypes play out in the media as a whole, and specifically advertising.

‘Are these shoes really sexist?’ we asked back in August, when footwear giant Clarks launched a new range of girls shoes that were rather impractical but deemed to be pretty, and received a flurry of criticism from the public. Before that, June saw us run down ‘8 incredibly sexist ads from this century’, a post that took into account both sides of the standard bias; the beautiful ornamental women, and the hapless, stupid man.

There’s no denying that women have a far tougher time of things when it comes to representation; we’ve not celebrated the #metoo campaign twice in our weekly Blagger’s Blog for no good reason. But then there’s far more attention on this issue when compared with the negative approach the media often takes towards men who are, on the whole, seen to be either sex crazed and misogynistic, or just plain idiotic. Now it seems one of the biggest organisations in the industry is taking it upon itself to try and right some of the wrongs against le masculines.

Disney has made headlines this week for more than the Murdoch deal everyone seems to be talking about. As The drum has reported on at length here, the group is looking to “ditch the Dad stereotypes” after working on a piece of qualitative research about family life and social dynamics in the UK, Germany, Spain and Sweden, wherein some 160 fathers were engaged in conversations.

Listen to your father(s)

The results were perhaps unsurprising, but also very telling. To quote The Drum again, “the market is fatigued by worn-out tropes depicting fathers as hapless jokers who are overworked or absent. Instead, it found, dads are driven by four key aspirations: the desire to bond with, protect and equip their children, as well as entertain.”

Apparently these key drivers were the same irrespective of age, nationality, education level, or income size.

Dads are a particularly important target market for Disney and other media companies that have a focus on narrative products, and one brands would be wise not to alienate. Major movie franchises have been shown to often be introduced to new generations ‘through dad’, for example Star Wars, the latest episode of which opens in UK cinemas tomorrow. Millennial dads are also highly receptive to brand messages; 45% said companies play an important part in their lives, dropping to 39% for childless males, and 38% for mums.

Ultimately, then, while it’s almost impossible not to employ some stereotyping within campaigns or media representations— otherwise you risk creating imagery that people cannot engage with— it’s time for these stereotypes to better show the realities of those characters, whether they are male or female, rich or poor, young or old. Otherwise you’re really just creating more distance between brand and those you are actively trying to win over.