The Unstereotype Alliance, the UN Women-led initiative aimed at breaking down stereotypes in advertising, held an event in New York earlier this month. A founding member of the movement, WFA was represented by CEO Stephan Loerke.
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My meeting with the Unstereotype Alliance in New York started on an improbable note. I had to clear UN headquarter security alongside a Mongolian herdsman and a group of Peruvian folk dancers.
I found out later in the day that UN was celebrating local folklore at a separate event. Everything happens at the UN.
When I arrived at the meeting of the Alliance proper, I was hugely impressed by Mrs Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women. A former Deputy President of South Africa from 2005 to 2008, she is the first woman to hold the position and at that point the highest-ranking woman in the history of South Africa.
A soft-spoken, thoughtful and visionary person, who radiates a quiet and confident determination, she stood out as a dedicated supporter of the Unstereotype Alliance and a strong believer in the importance of tackling harmful gender stereotypes in society.
But what matters for marketers is that she’s totally committed to partnering with the ad industry, hence the creation of the Unstereotype Alliance in Cannes last year – bringing together the industry’s heavyweights – Unilever, P&G, AT&T, WPP, Publicis, IPG, Google, Facebook, Tencent and WFA among them – in a unique partnership with UN Women.
The turnout and the energy at the meeting was impressive: more than 40 organizations – founding members but also UNICEF, NGOs, social entrepreneurs sharing their great work with passion and energy. There is clearly a lot of momentum behind the issue – Google searches for “women’s rights” reportedly spiked by more than 700% in January this year.
The danger is that there’s a risk of hyperbole also known as SFSN – “Sounds Fabulous, Signifies Nothing”. The Unstereotype Alliance needs to move from vision to action.
And that was very much the focus of the discussion. For the Alliance to make an impact, it will have to scale its work globally. Given the huge social, religious, cultural discrepancies, there can be no “one size fits all” approach.
It will require a bottom-up approach, where national advertiser associations build coalitions with industry partners and the local UN Women representatives on the basis of an agenda that is the most relevant to the country. Gender stereotyping can have many facets – with race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, disability often playing an important role. It will be for those local coalitions to identify the most relevant agenda for their country.
The good news is that unstereotyping is good for business. At a time where FMCG companies are struggling to drive growth and attract talent, Unstereotype can help on both counts. Evidence suggests that those brands that embrace unstereotyping are growing faster than their competitors. Generation E (for equality and empowerment) is demanding change and they’re looking to business to drive it. Three out of four millennials see business as a force for social impact.
We’ve got a lot on our plate. But it looks like the stars are aligning. There is a strong social and business rationale to take action. And WFA will provide a framework to drive global action through our national associations in the coming weeks. No time to waste.
The WFA will be launching a guide to gender stereotyping, including details of industry initiatives to stop it happening as well as case studies from brands that have got this right. It will be unveiled during Global Marketer Week in Tokyo in May.