16th December 2021

Today a new guide - Smashing Stereotypes in Advertising - has been published by LIONS and The Fawcett Society, the UK's leading charity campaigning for gender equality and women's rights. The Smashing Stereotypes in Advertising Guide, which draws on landmark research - ‘Unlimited Potential’ - by The Fawcett Society’s Commission on Gender Stereotypes, supports industry practitioners who want to actively challenge gender stereotypes throughout the creative process.

The research findings compelled Lions and The Fawcett Society to collaborate and create a set of real-world guidance and a blueprint for action: from pitching and storyboarding to styling and casting. The Smashing Stereotypes in Advertising Guide presents case studies and checklists for the industry to draw upon at every stage of the creative process, and highlights that while big statements about equality and inclusion can be impactful, smashing gender stereotypes can also be as simple as changing a colour scheme on set, or tweaking the script.

The ‘Unlimited Potential’ study, which was the culmination of an 18-month process of research and evidence gathering, demonstrates just how vital it is for the industry to take action and shatter gender stereotyping in children’s advertising. It found that two thirds of parents (66%) want to see companies voluntarily advertise toys to boys and girls in the same way; this was consistent across different groups, with over half of all voter groups, age brackets, and income groups, and white and BAME parents, agreeing.

But in spite of this, boys and girls are still treated differently, with half of parents agreeing that companies who market products to children stereotype by gender, making it difficult for them to explore and discover the toys, clothes and activities they genuinely enjoy.

The Smashing Stereotypes in Advertising Guide was funded through a donation of €7,410 made to The Fawcett Society through the LIONS Eurobest Glass: The Lion for Change award. Each year, a percentage of entry fees from the Glass award - which recognises creative work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice - is donated to an organisation working to eradicate gender bias in advertising and marketing.

The Guide was developed in collaboration with advertising practitioners and industry representatives from the UK and Europe who came together at two roundtable events to shape the content, ensuring it will add value for clients and agencies throughout each stage of creating and delivering a creative campaign.

Andrew Bazeley, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, The Fawcett Society, added: “Gender stereotypes are widespread and deeply embedded, from the toys on shelves to adverts on TV to the messages companies use to sell products to children. As our research shows, this causes real harm that follows children into later life.

By smashing stereotypes, we will allow children to grow up and be free to be who they want to be. For this to happen, action needs to be taken from across the spectrum but importantly, from the advertising and marketing industry who have a crucial role to play. This blueprint is the first step in providing advertisers with the necessary tools to actively challenge gender stereotypes in every part of the creative journey.”

Shreyasi Jha, roundtable participant, and gender expert at UNICEF, commented on the publication of the guide: “Children are socialized into gender roles through various mechanisms – their parents and the world around, including through media and advertising. Promoting positive gender roles in advertising is an effective mechanism to shape gender roles and promote positive gender socialization among children and adolescents. It’s great to see this very practical guidance from LIONS and The Fawcett Society that can help the advertising sector address gender stereotypes throughout their creative process and contribute towards transformative shifts in gender norms.”

Roundtable participant and Chief Experience Officer at Karmarama, Part of Accenture Interactive, Grace Francis, added: “This guidance is an essential foundation in creating seismic change across our industry. For some, this will open eyes, for others it will reinforce what we held all along—inclusivity isn’t just about getting in the room, it is about the space to be welcomed, heard and respected.”

Susie Walker, VP, Awards and Insight, LIONS, said: “The branded communications industry is expert in adapting to social change, and nowhere is this more evident than in the way it has evolved to reflect the urgent need for progress in gender equality. We hope the publication of this important guide, with our partners at The Fawcett Society, can provide real-world, practical guidance and support to creative marketers who want to actively challenge gender stereotyping.”

Gender stereotyping, as outlined in the ‘Unlimited Potential’ study, can be hugely harmful for children and young people. It highlights how gender expectations significantly limit children, causing problems such as lower self-esteem in girls and poorer reading skills in boys. The report finds that stereotypes contribute towards the mental health crisis among children and young people, are at the root of girls’ problems with body image and eating disorders, higher male suicide rates and violence against women and girls. Stereotyped assumptions can also significantly limit career choices, contributing to the gender pay gap.

  • You can find out more about our #SmashStereotypes campaign here 
  • Download the Smashing Stereotypes in Advertising guide here
  • Read our Unlimited Potential: Report of the Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood here