DUBAI: In spring last year, an Edelman survey found that a whopping 89 percent of consumers across 11 markets want brands to shift money and resources to building products that help people meet pandemic-related challenges.
Although this statistic is new, the sentiment is not.
Over the last few years, more and more consumers are becoming “belief buyers,” meaning that they are more likely to buy — and stay loyal to — brands that align with their beliefs.
With close to 80 percent of consumers being women, gender balance in advertising has emerged as a crucial factor for brands and a key connection point for belief buyers.
Notable campaigns such as Nike’s “What Are Girls Made Of?” And Always’ “Like A Girl” have caught the attention of both brands and consumers.
An organization that has made equality and inclusion one of its core brand-building pillars is consumer goods multinational Procter & Gamble (P&G).
“The reality is we want to be inclusive across the spectrum; whether that’s about people of determination or with regards to race and gender,” said Deepa Vaidyanathan, P&G senior communications director.
Under the umbrella of equality and inclusion, P&G held its We See Equal summit last month focusing on gender equality.
One of the panels at the summit focused on “rewriting gender stories,” and featured Vaidyanathan; Thea Skelton, festival director of Cannes Lions’ regional awards show Dubai Lynx; and Haya Sawan, a Saudi fitness advocate and founder of the SheFit Gym in Jeddah.
Arab News spoke with Vaidyanathan about gender equality, stereotypes and the fair representation of men and women in advertising.
The true meaning of gender balance
All too often, “woke” advertising is focused on empowering women or portraying them in unconventional roles. Another equally important facet of gender balance is the portrayal of men in non-stereotypical and non-toxic roles, especially in the male personal care category. The equal representation of both genders in other categories such as household products and baby care is also important.
“If you don’t change the gender narrative for men as well, you really don’t make an impact on the gender narrative for women,” said Vaidyanathan. It is important to correct the “alpha male stereotype” and reimagine how brands showcase men in their communications, she added.
In 2019, P&G’s male grooming brand Gillette changed its 30-year old tagline “The Best A Man Can Get” to “The Best Men Can Be” in a bid to tackle toxic masculinity.
In other categories, P&G is making an effort to feature men equally in their communication. For instance, Ariel’s “Share the Load” campaign shed light on the unequal distribution of household chores.
Pampers’ “It Takes Two” talked about the role of a father based on an insight that revealed 84 percent of fathers believe that taking care of a baby is primarily a mother’s job.
When it comes to brands like Pampers or Ariel that are not gender-specific, Vaidyanathan said: “We’re thinking about the consumer both from the point of view of a man and a woman, and therefore ensuring that our brands, in themselves, are gender-neutral.”
She added: “It’s a deliberate effort to feature men and women equally in the stories that we’re telling.”
The business case for advertising with a purpose
“We (P&G) talk about being a force for good and a force for growth and we want to do the right thing, and we believe the right thing will lead to the growth of the business,” said Vaidyanathan.
However, it is not uncommon for audiences to react negatively to ads that try to tackle social issues or send out an unconventional message. Gillette’s tagline change sparked online fury, with several commentators calling for P&G to post an apology and threatening to boycott the brand.
However, P&G did not back down. “If you are breaking stereotypes or questioning certain social conditioning, it is because there are people perpetuating it or it has existed for a long time,” said Vaidyanathan.
“Therefore, you almost expect that there will be certain people or groups of people that may not be in agreement with what you call out. And that’s fine because we have to stand by our values and principles.”
These values and principles have served P&G well from both a business and an equity perspective.
“We find that when we are taking a stand for or against certain issues, consumers tend to reward us with their choice and loyalty,” said Vaidyanathan.
Always’ marketing campaigns in the Middle East, starting with “Girls Can” and then “Generation of Firsts,” followed by “New Brave” and “Born Brave,” have managed to changed the game when it comes to the brand’s equity, she added.
The confidence in the brand’s values also comes from extensive research in understanding the deeper motivations and needs of consumers, and how they tie back to a certain product category.
“It all starts with the consumer, and knowing that’s our rudder, we know that we will always be going in the right direction.”