Natalie Lyall
Brand Strategy
Fighting Stereotypes Will Save Brands

Aline Santos believes we are living in fraught but exciting times. So much is going on globally, from the #MeToo movement to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in India. “Consumers, not brands, are shaping culture,” she said, in her keynote at Spikes Asia 2018. “And Asia is a powerhouse. Now is the time for Asia.” But, in her dual roles as EVP of Marketing and Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Unilever, she also sees ways in which advertising in this region (and globally) needs to change.

“Only 1% of advertising in Asia today is showing women as intelligent or as leaders,” said Santos. The rest of the stats she shared are just as damning: only 3% of ads show women over the age of 40; only 2% show men as caring fathers; only 0.2% show women as funny; and none show anybody with a disability.

“I did not recognise anyone I knew in this advertising,” she said. “Where are the Muslim ladies wearing their hijabs? Where are the same-sex parents? Where are the plus size trailblazers? The only reason I can think is laziness.” Santos lamented that such laziness has become a way of life in society and specifically in advertising, leading to blinkered campaigns. When stereotypes seep into the work we do, it means we end up creating clichéd ideas, unoriginal content, and generally just bad marketing.

“Laziness is not only damaging creativity; it is losing us business and killing brands,” says Santos. “More importantly, laziness is hurting society. And that’s what I want to really change.”

She recalls how, as a child, she believed that she only had two options available when it came to her future; teacher (like her mother) or housewife (like her aunt). “My universe was so limited,” she says. That is, until she saw the film Alien, and first became aware of the power of representation. “It was the first time in my life I was seeing a new reference about what it takes to be a woman, about what it means to be a woman,” she says. “Sigourney Weaver was the hero of the film! I’d never seen a woman like that. It was like she was looking at me and telling me I could be anything I wanted to be.”

Santos is certain that inclusive and authentic representation of different people in media makes society more progressive. That motivates her involvement in #Unstereotype, a movement that began internally at Unilever two years ago. “We started looking at insights,” Santos recalled. “Were they rooted in a human truth, or a broad demographic like gender? We started asking ourselves; what is the role of the person we’re portraying? Are we showing their ambitions, achievements, and aspirations? Or are we portraying only their responsibilities?”

The insights garnered by #Unstereotype led to definitive actions, such as a campaign with Dove Men+Care portraying men as loving fathers. It encouraged men and employers to have conversations about paternity leave, something which had been previously underutilised due to stereotypes surrounding gender roles. “We’re starting this now at Unilever, and it’s had great feedback,” said Santos, “not just from men but also women, as it leads to a more balanced working environment.”

Elsewhere, Unstereotype worked with teamaker Brooke Bond, a brand that wants the world to be more inclusive. They produced a campaign that broached the taboo subject of being transgender in India. “I have to say, we lost some customers — but we gained many more!” said Santos, noting that the brand is growing twice as fast as before the campaign.

That is what will inspire brands to embrace change: inclusive actions are good for society, but they also drive business results. #Unstereotype tested 1000 campaigns and found that each time a brand produced progressive advertising, the campaign had 25% more brand impact, raised purchase intention by 18%, and increased overall brand credibility by 21%.

The #Unstereotype Alliance is inviting other organisations, even fierce competitors, to collaborate in eliminating stereotypes from advertising. As Santos put it: “It’s good for business, it’s good for brands, it’s good for society.”

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