Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Portrayals of women in family and domestic settings in adverts more than doubled in 2022

To mark International Women’s Day, CreativeX, a creative data platform for the world’s largest brands, has published new analysis showing a need for brands to elevate their approach to including women in ads. 2022 findings showed that women (in particular women with darker skin tones*) are still underrepresented – and under-invested in when it comes to ad spend – across professional environments compared to family and domestic settings.

The analysis assessed over 10,000 adverts supported by over $100M in ad spend shows the presence of women in domestic or family settings in adverts increased to 66% in 2022 compared to just 32% in 2021. In addition, the percentage of women that were portrayed in professional settings decreased by nearly two thirds (60%) from 16% in 2021, to just 7% in 2022. 

This is despite women appearing more frequently across all of the ads indexed than men; over the last two years, ads featured 34% more women than men. CreativeX’s analysis shows despite women appearing in more creatives in total, the focus on showing women in progressive environments has slipped. 

As a result, more ad spend is being put behind women displayed in these family and domestic settings, increasing the reach and influence of these portrayals with consumers.

In 2022, while 7% of women were featured in professional settings, these portrayals were only supported by 4.7% of total ad spend. These adverts also received 35% less ad spend than those depicting men in similar roles. In comparison, 44% of ad spend behind ads featuring women was spent on portrayals in domestic and family settings. 

Women with darker skin tones featured 80% less in ads than women with the lightest skin tones

The 2022 analysis also reveals a bias to feature women with lightest skin tones. Across all ads, women with darker skin tones featured 80% less in ads than women with the lightest skin tones. In addition, these same women appeared 58% less frequently in professional settings and were supported by 30% less ad spend.

In comparison to 2021 data, ad spend behind darker skinned women fell by 20% last year, with women with lighter skin tones receiving 242% more ad spend than women with darker skin tones. In contrast, the percentage of ad spend behind men with lighter skin tones in professional and leadership settings increased by 106% from 2021 to 2022, from 15% to 31%. 

Finally, women over the age of 60 continue to be virtually invisible. In 2022, only 0.06% of ads featured women in this age group. And while spending on adverts with women over the age of 60 grew 2.2x more from 2021 to 2022, these ads still received less than 1% of total spend. 

Anastasia Leng, Founder and CEO of CreativeX, comments; “This is a historic time for women: we have our first US female VP,  27 countries with a female leader, and a record of female CEOs among the Fortune 500. Yet, we still struggle to create representative advertising. The industry expresses good intentions to build more representative content yet struggles to implement change at scale. 

“We have an opportunity to drive change in an area that we as marketers can fully control: creating more representative advertising. That journey is powered by creative data, which can unlock insights from our ads that demystify the casting and storytelling choices we’re making today and help us pave a way towards making the type of content that reflects our society at large and where it’s heading.”

Combatting under-representation is important not only for connected and social impacts but also bottom lines. With this in mind, brands should consider the following when implementing marketing strategies:

Representative content drives higher engagement: A Geena Davis Institute study of 2.7 million YouTube ads found that women-led and gender-balanced videos yielded 30% more views, Ipsos similarly demonstrated that ads positively portraying women positively impacted long-term brand relationships and short-term purchasing behaviour. Conversely, the Female Tribes Initiative found that 66% of women will switch off media (including ads) when it stereotypes women negatively. 

Representative ads improve business performance: A Deloitte study found that brands with more representative ads saw a 44% average stock increase over two years and 69% better business performance. Think With Google found consumers are more likely to consider, and purchase, a product after seeing an ad they consider to be diverse or inclusive. 

Advertisers risk alienating key decision-makers: Women aged 50+ account for 27% of consumer spending, and have been dubbed ‘super consumers’ – controlling 95% of household purchasing decisions and 80% of luxury travel purchases.

* skin tones i and ii (lightest) versus skin tones v and vi (darkest) according to the Fitzpatrick scale