How Media & Advertising Can Drive Equality—And What You Can Do to Help

Advertising and media matters: Americans may see anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 advertising messages a day, and these messages matter because they reinforce stereotypes, shape our perceptions of ourselves and the world, and impact culture.

“Advertising touches billions of people every day and has the power to shape culture,” says Aline Santos, EVP Global Marketing and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Unilever. “We believe it is our responsibility, alongside the industry, to portray people as they truly are, removing the outdated stereotypes that hold them back.”

Representation matters. As marketers, we have talked for decades about reaching as many people as possible; it’s time we place equal emphasis on representing as many people as possible. That means prioritizing greater authenticity in characters and storylines and doing more to accurately capture the richness and diversity of the world we live in. Thought leaders in the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week share their insights on how to create a real shift in both advertising messages and our culture at large.


The Journey To Visibility

“We’re on this journey and movement from invisibility to visibility. Visibility is so important is because, when we disappear people from our advertising, we disappear people from our culture. When we treat people as if they’ve disappeared and we don’t let them be the agents of their own change in storytelling, we end up… teaching people how to treat women and girls and boys and men in ways that are harmful and it’s a human rights issue.”

Jess Weiner, CEO of Talk to Jess


Become Conscious of Your Unconscious

“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re probably part of the problem. I think that is the best rationale for men to be part of the conversation because once you understand the data and aren’t blind to the problem anymore, you have an obligation to be part of the solution. I have two teenage boys at home and with all the marketing messages we’re exposed to…I want them to see how they are supposed to interact with women and with those who are not like them…take that to my professional career at AT&T, and I think we have a responsibility to improve how women and girls are represented.”

Bill Moseley, Director, Marketing Communications, AT&T

Jess Weiner of Talk to Jess; Asa Regnar of UN Women; Heide Gardner of IPG; Aline Santos of Unilever; Shelley Zalis of The Female Quotient and Bill Moseley of AT&T in the Girls' Lounge at Advertising Week.

Jess Weiner of Talk to Jess; Asa Regnar of UN Women; Heide Gardner of IPG; Aline Santos of Unilever; Shelley Zalis of The Female Quotient and Bill Moseley of AT&T, talking about how to fight stereotypes in the Girls’ Lounge at Advertising Week.

Fighting Stereotypes Is Not A Woman’s Issue; It’s A Human Issue

“By addressing not just gender norms for women but also for men, and intersectionality, taking into account needs and concerns of women are driven by and affected by other parts of their identity, such as race and ethnicity…by knowing our customers and being thoughtful about how we portray women, we can actually help drive change in society while at the same time doing well by doing good.”

Heide Gardner, Chief Diversity & Inclusion Officer, IPG


Equality in Ads Helps the Bottom Line

“Unstereotype is not just about women – it is about everyone. We must work harder to be more representative and inclusive in our portrayals of people, considering not only gender but other dimensions such as race, class, language, sexuality. And here’s the thing, Unstereotype drives business impact. It’s good for society and good for brands! Progressive advertising creates 25% more branded impact, drives purchase intent by 18% and improves credibility by 21%.”

Aline Santos, EVP Global Marketing and Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion, Unilever

So, what can you do to help drive change in ads if you don’t work in the industry? You as a consumer can do your part by being intentional about the brands you buy products from and the media you consume. It may sound too good to be true, but you can advance equality by shopping from brands that amplify equality and diversity messaging and sharing ads on social or the internet that help bust stereotypes by portraying both men and women more authentically. Let’s support the ads and brands that will help women (and men!) break free from stereotypes and be more fully themselves.


Read more on how ads can change culture here:

Why The Most Successful Brands Have Heart

Katie Couric & Top Leaders On The State Of Women in Media And Ads

A Surprising Reason for Gender Inequality in Ads—And How To Fix It