Marketing managers have a crucial role to play in the way society represents itself, their advertisements influence society’s attitudes and beliefs. Marketing managers engaging in ethical practices build trust in society. Ethical practices are a set of guidelines behind the regulations of marketing, they are moral principles that extend beyond the legal limit, it is what the marketing manager perceives to be right. Marketing managers need to act in an ethical manner to avoid declining public confidence and increases in government regulations in marketing. An ethical dilemma marketing managers face is the use of gender stereotypes in their advertisements. Marketing managers should use positive gender stereotypes and not negative ones shown in the case of Billabong swimwear.
How marketing managers should approach gender stereotypes:
Gender is commonly used by marketing managers as a segmentation tool to learn about their target markets attitudes, opinions and interests. Gender is used as a segmentation tool as gender segments are; “(1) easily identifiable, (2) easily accessible through media data, and (3) large enough to be profitable” (Windels, 2016). When genders are used as a segmentation tool there is a belief that there are certain attributes that differential men and women this can lead to gender stereotyping by the marketing manager. Attributes may include; “trait descriptors (e.g., self-assertion, concern for others), physical characteristics (e.g., body height, hair length), role behaviours (e.g., taking care of children, being a leader), or occupational statuses (e.g., truck driver, homemaker)” (Eisend, 2019). Each of these attributes will have a more ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ version that is more associated with males or females. “Stereotyping in advertising occurs when gender-role depictions deviate from equality” (Eisend, 2019). This occurs when only women are depicted as the only one that does the house chores.
Marketing managers should not activity use negative gender stereotyping in their marketing campaigns as it can contribute to inequality and be harmful to society. Gender stereotyping in advertising can over time play a part in limiting peoples potential. “Research shows that reinforcement of gender stereotypes through advertising reduces women’s professional performance, achievement aspirations, and positive self-perceptions. Furthermore, stereotyping of physical characteristics, such as idealized body portrayals (e.g. slim female bodies, muscular male bodies), was found to correlate with reduced body satisfaction and self-esteem” (Eisend, 2019). These gender stereotyping advertisements will make women feel pressure to be a certain way also making them feel not good enough. This shows that marketing managers playing on gender stereotypes is detrimental to society, recognising this the AANA has updated their Code of Ethics to assist marketing managers in their use of gender stereotypes. AANA states “The advertising industry accepts it has a role to help ensure that advertising has a positive rather than a negative impact in terms of representing and promoting gender equality in society” (Ice, 2018). Although AANA new Code of Ethics only affects Australian advertisement this can shape the future guidelines for NZ, as companies that market in both countries will need to follow the updated Code of Ethics in Australia.
If it is so harmful to society, why do marketing managers still use stereotypes? In Windel’s study conducted in 2016 shows that marketing managers use stereotypes for three reasons; (1) Stereotypes are perceived as general knowledge which society agrees with; (2) Stereotypes communicate a scene and characters quickly and allow focus on the message in a 30 second advertisement; (3) Stereotypes prevent distraction from the marketers message. Consumers expect typical situations, the expectation is to always see a normal family. If you suddenly make the family mixed-race or two dads or two moms, they are going to say, “Why are there two moms? Is the commercial about two moms?”. The consumer is then lost from the actual message of the advertisement.
As you can see there are benefits and negative effects to gender stereotyping but there is an argument that advertisements do not cause these negative effects. This is the mirror versus mould argument. The mirror argument states that advertising reflects the values that already exist in society, “using existing values to promote brands rather than trying to alter these values” (Eisend, 2019). Mould argument states that “gender roles in advertising create, shape and reinforce gender-stereotypical beliefs and values” (Eisend, 2019). The repeated exposure from these advertisements shape the behaviours of society.
I definitely believe that negative stereotypes in advertisements are causing negative effects on society, but there are times marketing managers should not be afraid to use gender. Gender is very powerful it just needs to be used appropriately and align with the brand’s mission. Inappropriate uses of gender stereotypes are when they reinforce negative perceptions, for example, anything that belittles a gender or says that one gender is not as good at something compared to the other. Appropriate uses of gender stereotypes are when the message respects and resonates with the consumer. The consumer can laugh at themselves instead of feeling like they are being laughed at. Although this may be a very fine line and the marketing manager could easily get it wrong, therefore the “ASA has decided to not ban gender stereotypes outright, but rather identify specific harms that can be prevented” (Lyons, 2019). As advertising has a crucial role in the way society represents itself, this will help marketing managers influence gender stereotypes in a positive and inclusive way that does not harm a specific gender, making their advertisements gender inclusive. McLaren’s research conducted in 2017 underlined the business benefits of pushing traditional gender boundaries, with 65% of women and 59% of men saying they like it when brands use traditional media to challenge stereotypes. So, there is not just an ethical reason but also a commercial reason for why marketing managers should influence gender stereotypes in a positive and inclusive way to benefit society.
The case of Billabong swimwear:
The man is depicted as a subject, shredding waves, being active and a “badass” (Banting, 2017). While the woman is depicted as an object that “lies around uncomfortably, waiting to be looked at and desired” (Banting, 2017). The advertisement portrays “men utilising the clothing's functionality and are athletes, while the women merely sunbath and are sex objects” (Olds, 2017). This advertisement has a damaging effect on women that has been repeated over and over by many marketing managers, that women “should always be sexually available, always have sex on their minds, be willing to be dominated and they will be gazed on as sexual objects” (Olds, 2017). As these advertisements are being repeated these gender stereotypes will shape women’s beliefs and attitudes towards what they should be doing at the beach. This shows that marketers should use positive gender stereotyping to influence women out there that they can surf and be ‘badass’ like the males and not be a sex object. If I was the marketing manager, I would obviously keep the gender breakdown one male and one female but will have it more inclusive by having a female also surfing. Showing a female surfing will help women see that they can shred waves just as well as males, so women can feel that they do belong out there on the waves and not an object that is out of place. Women that do surf “have to silence the voices inside our own heads that say we don’t actually belong out there” (Banting, 2017). By including a woman surfing on the advertisement will help silence these voices. This is in fact what Billabong did do after facing backlash shown below:
It is interesting that billabong still kept the same image of the male that obscures his swimwear, the item the advertisement is trying to sell. Also, the women’s picture is less extreme compared to the male image. I would change the male image so the consumer can see the product and change the female image to something more exhilarating to show women shred waves just as well as males. My example is shown below:
(Billabong, 2017) (Lenarduzzi, 2017)
In short, the role in which marketing managers play in shaping and influencing society’s attitudes, beliefs and interests is a crucial one. Marketing managers should try to influence gender stereotypes to have positive influences on society. Their influence should only be with positive gender stereotypes that challenge the typical beliefs of society and not with negative gender stereotypes that limit people’s potential. The Billabong swimwear case shows how positive gender stereotypes in advertisements can positively impact society beliefs. A change from a stereotypical women’s image of her laying on the beach to one of a woman shredding waves. This change challenged the current beliefs of society of women being a sex objects to one that inspires women, makes them feel they belong in the waves and that they are not out of place. I strongly suggest that marketing managers actively try to influence gender stereotypes and direct the beliefs of society.
- Banting Karen, 2017. F*ck You Billabong. Seriously, f*ck you.
- Billabong, 2017. SSR Surfboards Blog Featuring Action Sports Brands. Pp.1
- Retrieved from:
- Eisend Martin, 2019. Gender roles. (Academic Journal)
- Ice Ben, 2018. AANA releases notes on gender stereotyping to clarify Code of Ethics.
- Knott Kylie, 2017. Six examples of Mad Men-style sexism and gender stereotyping in modern ads.
- Lenarduzzi Isabella, 2017.
- Retrieved from:
- Lyons Erin, 2019. Ban on ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes in advertising comes into force.
- McLaren Sally, 2017. Gender stereotyping is damaging brands.
- Olds Jeremy, 2017. The problem with Billabong's 'sexist' ad.
- Windels, Kasey, 2016. Stereotypical or just typical: how do US practitioners view the role and function of gender stereotypes in advertisements? (Academic Journal)
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