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Ads still presenting biased representation of women

Women still lack unbiased representation in advertising in 2023, despite women being featured in advertising more than ever before.

That’s according to analysis by CreativeX of over 10,000 ads supported by more than $110m in ad spend from 2021-2022, which indicates that despite a more balanced presence among gender in advertising, equitable portrayals, and ad spend against diverse content remain low, particularly for intersectional identities.

Bucking the trend of other studies into representation within advertising, the dataset revealed that women appeared more frequently in ads than men. Of all unique individuals identified in ads from 2021-2022, 57.3% were women, and 42.7% men.

The higher frequency of women is most likely connected to the industries included in the study. A 2017 study from the Geena Davis Institute found that women appeared more often than men in ads from Healthcare and CPG brands.

Despite women proportionally featuring more in ads, this visibility did not extend to women with darker skin tones. Across all of the dataset, women with darker skin tones (type v and vi) featured 80% less than women with the lightest skin tones (type i and ii).

CreativeX says measuring appearance and casting only speaks to one part of the puzzle when creating representative content. i.e. inclusive ads that fail to receive sufficient ad spend will not be able to compete with inequitable content in an ever more crowded ad space.

For example, while its research demonstrated that ads featuring women aged 60+ received 221% more ad spend in 2022 compared to 2021, this was still only equivalent to less than 1% of total ad spend.

Individuals at the intersection of multiple historically marginalized identities, such as gender and race, face compounded disadvantages. This is evident when considering representation in advertising.

The research demonstrated that ads with lighter-skinned men in professional or leadership roles received as much as 4x more in ad spend as compared to ads with darker-skinned women in the same roles.

Previous studies have considered the context in which men and women appear in ads. Unilever’s own research found that just 3% of advertising featured women in leadership roles, and only 2% showed women as intelligent.

Despite being among the most educated group in the US, women of color make up just 4% of C-Suite executives, and black women make just 63 cents for every dollar earned by white men. Lack of representation in advertising exacerbates these real-life inequities.

Download the full CreativeX 2023 Gender in Advertising Report here.