IWD 2024: Industry talks a good game but is still failing

ethnicityRepresentation of women in advertising has finally turned a corner, but darker-skinned and older women have been left behind and across the board, most ads still confine women to traditional roles, such as family and domestic settings.

So says CreativeX’s fourth Gender In Advertising Report, launched annually to coincide with International Women’s Day, which used the world’s largest creative database to analyse over 32,000 global ads supported by $260m in adspend in 2023.

While the representation of women in traditional roles did fall from 66% to 30% between 2022 and 2023, their representation in non-traditional roles like leadership (3.4%) and professional (8.5%) settings remains disproportionately dire.

And, even when women are depicted in non-traditional roles, adspend decisions undermine their visibility. Although adspend on women in physical roles increased 1060% in 2023 compared to 2022, the overall investment in these portrayals of women remains low, accounting for only 3.7% of spend on ads featuring women.

Layering other characteristics into the analysis, such as skin tone and age, revealed the continued failure to provide adequate representation for older women and women of colour.

In fact, women with darker skin tones were the least represented skin type in 2023. While representation of women with darker skin tones in ads increased by 63% year-on-year, in 2023 it only amounted to 21% of all ads featuring women. Lighter-skinned women appeared almost four times more frequently.

Meanwhile, older women appeared in just 1.5% of ads, with older men 25% more likely to be present.

When older women and women of colour are present, they are often depicted in stereotypical roles. Lighter-skinned women appeared over five times more in professional settings and seven times more in leadership roles compared to darker-skinned women. Older women are twice as likely to be depicted in domestic roles compared to older men, while older men are three times more likely to be shown in leadership roles.

In 2023, women with the darkest skin tone received only 2.6% of total adspend, and spending on darker skin tones decreased by 9% year-on-year. Conversely, ad spend on women with lighter skin tones increased by 2%, resulting in them receiving 82% of all media spend for women.

Ads featuring people over 60 received just 1.2% of total adspend, a decrease of 33% from 2022.

CreativeX founder and CEO Anastasia Leng said: “For years, the lack of progress on representative advertising has been blamed on a lack of data, which hindered our ability to quantify the gap between where we wanted to be and where we were.

“Our industry dedicated lots of airtime to talking about the problem, so many assumed we were getting better at inclusively representing people in ads.

“Well, the data’s here and it shows yet again that intent isn’t translating to action. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and it requires ongoing measurement to drive sustainable progress.

“Advancements in technology now enable us to track and measure the creative decisions we’re making, in near real-time, including breaking out how we’re casting and portraying people in ads and determining if those decisions map to what we know about our consumers and our markets’ changing demographic trends.”

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