Marketing and Advertising

Organizations can benefit from gender-responsive marketing and advertising as it allows for better representation of the consumer base.

The private sector has the power to directly and indirectly impact women and girls across their entire value chain through marketing and advertising activities. Gender stereotyping and bias in advertising and marketing affect everyone; however, women are often the most negatively impacted.1 Sixty-six percent of Canadian women believe marketing materials contain too many gender stereotypes, and only 30 percent can identify with the women being portrayed in advertisements.2 Organizations can benefit from gender-responsive marketing and advertising because it allows for better representation of the consumer base. Women dominate the global marketplace with more than $20 trillion in consumer spending, a figure that will rise to $30 trillion in the next decade, and 75 percent identify as the primary shopper of their household.3

Even though diversity in advertising is on the rise, organizations still struggle to portray different genders proportionally and realistically. In some countries, regulation of gender portrayal in advertising has been set in place. For example, in the UK, regulation states that advertisements must not depict women and men in gender-stereotypical roles; in France, the Advertising Industry Standards Body put in place a code to prevent any depictions of men and women that do not respect their dignity; other European countries such as Belgium, Finland, Ireland, Greece, and Hungary have similar regulations.4 In addition, organizations around the world are proactively working to break gender stereotypes. For instance, UN Women launched the Unstereotype Alliance to bring industry leaders together to take collective, urgent action in eliminating outdated stereotypes in advertising.

Success Factors for Marketing and Advertising

  • Organizations should equip themselves to design, develop, advertise, and sell products and services that respect women’s dignity and eliminate gender stereotypes and bias. In turn, they will be able to capture significant business opportunities. Unilever reported that its progressive advertisements are 25 percent more effective than those featuring more traditional portrayals of gender.5
  • Aim for equal portrayal of capabilities and roles for all genders. According to an Ipsos global study, 75 percent of consumers feel more positive about companies with advertising that shows different genders with the same capabilities and roles, and 51 percent of consumers actively seek products from companies that promote gender equality in their advertising.6
  • Proactively challenge stereotypical roles of gender and other social factors and avoid cultural appropriation and sexualization. Show positive, attainable role models and feature diverse, realistic portrayals of all genders and social identities, including faces, bodies, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and cultural background.

Good Practices in the Private Sector

In 2017, IKEA Canada launched a new marketing campaign called “Beautiful Possibilities” an optimistic, hopeful look at the beautiful possibilities within your home, your community and the world, all seen from a child’s point of view. The ad spotlights the initiatives that IKEA has, including social change, sustainability, diversity and inclusion, equality and more. Everyone should feel appreciated for their differences as well as their similarities. The campaign reflects diversity through living situations and people, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, gender, physical ability, age, sexual orientation or identity. This also reflects how we work as an employer, supporting equal rights and equal opportunities.

Unilever began its journey to unstereotype the portrayals of women and men in its advertising in 2016. Unstereotyping ads is part of Unilever’s business strategy that impacts all brands and marketing teams as well as agency partners. Dove’s #ShowUs campaign in collaboration with Getty Images creates an open image database of diverse, natural and never digitally distorted women. In addition to brands like Dove and LUX supporting women’s empowerment, brands like Axe/Lynx and Dove Men+Care have launched campaigns to tackle stereotypes that hold men back in the workplace. In 2019, Dove Men+Care launched the Pledge for Paternity Leave and Paternity Leave Fund to make paid paternity leave the new standard. These initiatives offer a number of online resources, tips and useful information.

Procter and Gamble (P&G) has publicly committed to gender equality by setting the target of having 100 percent accurate and positive portrayals of men and women in its advertising and media. As P&G supports the Association of National Advertisers’ (ANA) #SeeHer initiative and the UN Women Unstereotype Alliance initiative, many of P&G’s brands incorporate gender equality into their advertising. For example, a Gillette commercial displays the diverse spectrum of masculinity, and Pampers is also combatting stereotypes about normalized gender roles by showing men taking on the primary role of caring for children.

Recommendations for Marketing and Advertising

  • Ensure that all your internal marketing team receives gender stereotype, bias, and intersectionality training. Consider requesting such training to agency partners or vendors.
  • Track representation of all genders and diverse social identities in your advertising as well as collateral material use for recruiting purposes. Make marketing managers or equivalent accountable for those metrics.
  • Pre-test and test all gender portrayals when developing advertising and communication materials to prevent content with gender-stereotypical roles and gender-biased language from going live.
  • Join an initiative that addresses stereotyping and bias in advertising (e.g. UN Women Stereotype Alliance Initiative, #SeeHer Initiative), and look to other countries that developed regulation preventing stereotyping in advertising for insights (e.g. the UK, France, Norway).
  • Ensure your organization’s culture and practices align with your external communications and public image. Marketing and advertising messages should accurately reflect your organization (e.g. don’t advertise your inclusivity and potential for upward mobility if the majority of people receiving promotions only belong to one specific segment).

Assess Your Organization’s Marketing and Advertising

  • To what extent is creating gender-responsive marketing and advertising a priority for your organization’s gender equality efforts?
  • How does your organization ensure that gender portrayals in advertisements are diverse, realistic, and do not depict stereotypical roles?
  • How does your organization address potential bias in employees involved in communications, marketing, advertising, public relations, etc.?
  • How does your organization ensure equal and balanced representation of all genders in advertising and communication materials?
  • Has your organization joined an initiative that addresses stereotyping and bias in advertising (e.g. UN Women Stereotype Alliance Initiative, #SeeHer Initiative)?
  • Does your organization pre-test and test gender portrayals when developing advertising and external communication materials?

Resources for Marketing and Advertising

Name Source Type Target Area Goals Target Unit Summary

Gender Portrayal Guidelines

Ad Standards


Unstereotype Advertising

Follow gender portrayal guidelines to ensure equal representation in different types of situations that are depicted in advertisements.

Marketing, Advertising

A Guide to Progressive Gender Portrayals in Advertising – the Case for Unstereotyping Ads

The World Federation of Advertisers


Unstereotype Advertising

Remove stereotypes in advertising and improve gender portrayals by increasing diversity within your business's teams, suppliers, and campaigns.

Marketing, Advertising

A Guide to Gender Equality in Communications

Koç Holding Company


Marketing Strategy

Develop an approach for communications professionals to help companies overcome traditional stereotypes.

HR, D&I, Marketing, Advertising

Let's Speak Gender: 10 Principles of Gender-Responsive Communications for Development



Communication Implementation

Provide guidance on gender-responsive representation in communications.

Marketing and Advertising, All Units

Advertising Guidance on Depicting Gender Stereotypes Likely to Cause Harm or Serious or Widespread Offence

Committee of Advertising Practice (UK)


Unstereotype Advertising

Learn about different ways to avoid the gender stereotyping of men, women, and other vulnerable groups in advertisements.

Marketing, Advertising

Gender Bias in Advertising: Research, Trends and New Visual Language

Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media


Unstereotype Advertising

Examines ways that the advertising industry has improved representation of women, and how it can do better.

Marketing, Advertising

Getting Gender Right



Unstereotype Advertising

Report geared to marketers to help them make strategic branding decisions related to gender differences in response to marketing campaigns.

Marketing, Advertising