This year Kendrick Lamar proclaimed that he’s, “Sick and tired of the Photoshop”. He’s not alone. We’re in the middle of a growing backlash to prescribed, unrealistic and idealised portrayals of people and their lives. Enforced stereotypes of gender, race and class that categorise us are beginning to be rejected.

Kendrick’s opinion is pretty unique in rap – a world that has been known for its misogyny and obsession with the hyper glossy and ‘attractive’ world of sex, wealth and bravado. In the world of advertising -  an industry with a similar history of being dominated by male orientated stereotypes of ‘utopia’- this approach is one we are thankfully starting to see more and more.

Lynx have ditched the hunky males attracting hordes of underwear models with one scoosh of Africa to celebrate the diverse attraction of their audience – ‘Who needs a six pack when you have your own thing?”

H&M are eschewing expectations of their fashion models to embrace what was once considered taboo. Diesel are telling us to “Go With the Flaw.”

Similarly, Adidas Originals recently embraced a body positive message by partnering with artist and ‘cyber sensation’ Arvida Byström (@arvidabystrom), known for her questioning of femininity and gender and rejection of what some sections of society deem becoming of women.

All of this is helping to chip away at the narrow standard of beauty and lifestyle that have been perpetuated for too long. But why is it only now that these advertisers are choosing to opt for honesty over aspiration?


Advertising’s over-reliance on stereotypes
is causing resentment.

Havas Creative’s latest Prosumer Study, “The Future Is FeMale”, found that there is a growing resentment towards enforced stereotypes in advertising. This feeling is unsurprisingly stronger amongst women who have and continue to be at the shitty end of the stick when it comes to what is considered ‘aspirational’. Nearly half of everyone they spoke to agreed that TV ads show too many outdated stereotypes (47.8%) - a feeling that was felt more acutely amongst women compared to their male counterparts.

Why aren’t more people doing it?

While the rejection of prescribed identity is increasing, those brands who have been bold enough to put a firm stake in the ground have often been met with crazy backlash. The H&M Autumn Collection advert has comments disabled on YouTube. Adidas’s work with Bystrom was met with a sickening barrage of threats and abuse simply for showing a woman with leg hair. Clearly there are lots of people out there who aren’t willing to embrace individuality in all its forms - for brands looking to sell products to the biggest possible market, many aren’t willing to alienate potential customers with progressive messages of acceptance and tolerance.

Why should you care?

1. You’re going to have to care as of next year

Following the ASA’s review into gender stereotyping in advertising (you can read the full report here), The Committee of Advertising Practice are enforcing new standards on advertising that feature stereotypical gender roles as of next year.


2. Do you want to be the brand that time forgot?

In the years to come, when non-stereotyped, brave and bold advertising is the norm (and no longer labelled ‘brave’ or ‘bold’, fingers crossed…), you don’t want your brand to be the archaic subject of finger pointing for the newly enlightened masses.

3. Open mindedness = bigger consumer opportunity

If your product has uses beyond a narrow, typecast audience why run the risk of excluding potential customers by peddling exclusionist stereotypes in your advertising. The personal likes/dislikes of us marketers are irrelevant - we need to be providing what the buying public want. If the tide is changing, we need to too.

4. You don’t have to dive in

Brands that have built their purpose around championing social change or ‘underdogs’ in society will lead the vanguard when it comes to redefining how consumers are represented in advertising (Dr.Martens, Adidas). For the rest, change can happen more gradually. Awareness of the necessity and a willingness not to shy away from change is key.