How Brands Are Shaping Culture Around Gender Stereotypes

On the heels of last week’s historic shift towards equal marriage rights here in the US, let’s take a look at how brands are showing their own love to, and interpretation of, the new meaning of gender roles in today’s society. Beyond brands, the industry at-large is recognizing the importance of getting behind gender equality and prejudice – at this year’s Cannes Festival, a new award called the ‘Glass Lion’ was created to recognize campaigns that address these critical issues.

Sheryl Sandberg, co-creator of the award, explains ‘brands have immense power to shatter stereotypes and overturn clichés…[it] isn’t just about changing culture for the better – it’s about the bottom line. There is a business for gender equality in advertising, and the outcome is clear.’ Below are three of the top eight ads recognized in this year’s category.

Sport England’s #ThisGirlCan

Backing up against over-idealized images of women exercising or playing sport, #ThisGirlCan celebrates the real physiques and experiences of women working out. Through a successful socially integrated campaign, women around the world are sharing photos of their real sport experiences to cut through the clutter of stereotypes and manufactured fears that have impeded expectations and judgments far too long.

Ariel Laundry Detergent’s #ShareTheLoad

Recognizing that women in India often carry the burden of two jobs – one at work and one at home – leading detergent brand Ariel launched a campaign to motivate men in helping out with household chores. #ShareTheLoad sparked a conversation nationwide by asking ‘Is laundry only a woman’s job?’ which led to a cascade of media coverage and debate across national tv networks. The campaign’s genius lay in its commitment to further the conversation around shifting gender mindsets by becoming engrained in everyday living of its target audiences. From including ‘His and Her Instruction Manuals’ with every detergent purchase to changing apparel wash care labels by adding ‘Can be washed by both men and women’, the campaign demonstrates how a conversation can move from strictly communications to cultural change. Not only did the campaign shift mindsets of gender equality in the home, but it also proved good for business – Ariel saw massive increase in sales and consumer engagement.

Always’ #LikeAGirl

Another brand in the P&G family, Always launched their #LikeAGirl campaign in 2014 to instigate a conversation around confidence. The campaign stems from a proven drop in girls’ confidence around puberty with the goal to reposition the negative connotations too often associated with doing something ‘like a girl’. What originally started as a filmed social experiment has evolved into girls around the world submitting videos and photos of their acts like a girl through a new lens of strength, confidence and determination. In March of this year, Always introduced a new film that captures the positive effect their conversation has had on shifting perceptions worldwide.

Though mass media is no stranger to these types of conversations, they have largely been the product of not-for-profit and advocacy organizations, such as The Clinton Foundation’s Not There Yet Campaign which launched earlier this year.

Beyond brand conversation, there is a physical shift happening in the way companies offer up and frame gender. UK luxury department store Selfridges, for example, recently launched Agender – the fashion’s first gender-neutral retail space. Positioned as ‘a celebration of fashion without definition’ the global retailer breaks ground in not only talking about this debate but bringing it to life for today’s savvy consumers to experience in tangible ways.

With these strides in mind made by various companies, how can your brand participate in and impact the gender equality debate? What are the main obstacles that you feel your brand must be overcome?