A recent report by CreativeX has shed light on the stark underrepresentation of women of colour and older women in advertisements throughout 2023. 

The findings underscore the persistent challenges facing the advertising industry in achieving diverse and inclusive representation.

The fourth Gender In Advertising Report, unveiled annually on International Women's Day, drew insights from the world's largest creative database, analysing over 32,000 global ads supported by a staggering $260 million in ad spend. 

Despite some progress in women's representation, the report highlights glaring gaps that continue to marginalise certain demographics.

Alarming revelations

One of the most alarming revelations is the near-invisibility of older women in advertisements, with a mere 1.5% presence across all ads. This statistic stands in stark contrast to older men, who were 25% more likely to feature in advertising campaigns. Such discrepancies raise concerns about ageism and gender bias perpetuated within the industry.

Furthermore, the report exposes disparities in representation based on skin tone, with women of darker skin tones significantly underrepresented. Despite a 63% year-on-year increase, ads featuring women with darker skin tones accounted for only 21% of all ads featuring women. Lighter-skinned women, on the other hand, appeared nearly four times more frequently, highlighting systemic biases favouring certain skin tones over others.

Even when women are depicted in non-traditional roles such as leadership and professional settings, their visibility remains disproportionately low. Ad spend decisions further compound these disparities, with investments heavily skewed towards lighter-skinned individuals and younger demographics.

The future of representation

Anastasia Leng, Founder and CEO of CreativeX, remarked on the sobering findings, stating: “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 air time 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,” she continues, “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.”

The report's methodology, drawing from an extensive dataset encompassing 322 brands across 81 markets, underscores the breadth of its analysis. By examining core contextual settings within ads, including leadership, professional, physical, family, domestic, and other categories, the report provides a comprehensive overview of prevailing trends in advertising representation.

As the industry grapples with the imperative for inclusivity and diversity, these findings serve as a clarion call for concerted action. Addressing systemic biases and dismantling barriers to representation are essential steps toward fostering a more equitable and reflective advertising landscape. Only through sustained effort and accountability can the industry truly realise its potential as a catalyst for positive social change.

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