How advertisers can change outdated narratives of motherhood

How advertisers can change outdated narratives of motherhood

Think back to the immaculate image of the prim and proper american housewife in the first half of the 20th century. The mass media and advertisers portrayed mothers as one-dimensional, always-assembled archetypes whose sole purpose was to cook and care for children. The women devoted their time to unpaid housework, and somehow they always did it with a smile and a face full of makeup – or so the advertisers told us. .

This image of motherhood has reinforced long-standing gender stereotypes, and while it has evolved, advertisers still have a long way to go to present a fuller, more authentic image. However, today, narrow ideologies based on gender norms no longer resonate with our ever-changing society. According to “Perceptions of Progress: The State of Women’s Equality in the United States” According to a study conducted by advertising collective SeeHer and Dentsu, 81% of consumers agree that the media is essential in shaping gender roles and a third of respondents do not believe that the media currently succeeds in accurately representing women. .

Consumers want to see better representation of women and mothers in the media. The pressing question for advertisers therefore remains: how do we radically transform the portrayal of mothers and caregivers and tell a more inclusive and accurate story?

How women have always been portrayed in advertising
Clearly, the role of advertisers in society is complex, but one of their main functions is to simplify complex messages to reach mass audiences. The recipe is simple: the more catchy and memorable it is, the more profitable it is.

However, this methodology can become problematic when it comes to the representation of people. From the 1930s to the 1940s, advertisers told a standard women’s storyaccording to Judith Freeman in “The Distorting Image: Women and Advertising, 1900-1960”: “the quiet portrayal of the devoted, loving wife and mother that has been used by promoters of everything from crackers to paint and wallpaper.”

“These early ads rarely showed mothers independent of their families or homes, even though we know that women and caregivers lead complex lives,” said Jeannine Shao Collins, president of SeeHer at the Association of National Advertisers.

This simplification of people in advertising can lead to reduction and harmful stereotyping, added Kiah Nicholas, head of integrated creative at BMF Australia.

“As one of the arbiters of culture and cultural norms, it’s easy to see how women, mothers and caregivers have paid the price for reductionism in advertising,” Nicolas said. “But these harmful stereotypes reinforce deep-seated prejudices that hold back the advancement of equality at all levels.”

How women are portrayed in advertising today
Today, while consumers agree on the critical role advertising plays in achieving women’s equality, there is still a gap in how men and women perceive women’s representation in media. Research shows that women are more likely than men to believe that advertisers portray women in stereotypical roles of caregivers (60%), submissive (55%), delicate (44%) or in supporting roles (63%).

“Women have always been multi-dimensional, but we haven’t always been portrayed that way in the media, which is why SeeHer was created – to harness the combined power of advertising and media to increase representations representations of girls and women,” Collins said, adding that’s why SeeHer was created – to increase authentic representations of girls and women. “While the progress to date is encouraging, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Eve Rodsky, New York Times The best-selling author of “Fair Play” and the national bestseller “Find Your Unicorn Space,” agrees that there’s still a lot to do in today’s advertising industry. She recently received a promotional text for Mother’s Day from a major mobile phone company that read: “Moms do everything, so we have offers to make life a little easier for them.

“Even on the holidays that are meant to support and celebrate us, we’re served with reminders that ‘moms do it all,'” Rodsky said. “How can we, as caregivers, start to believe that we can be more than our roles as parents, partners and professionals when advertising and entertainment only center these identities? »

But we cannot ignore the progress that has been made. Procter & Gamble “Share the load” campaign launched in 2015 to encourage equality in the distribution of household chores, with the brand launching its fifth installment earlier this year. In 2021, P&G Home Care Dawn and Swiffer brands also leveraged a coveted Super Bowl spot to inspire people to “clean up to close the chore gap”, a campaign that challenged gender role stereotypes in the home. last fall, PepsiCo’s Pure Leaf tea launched a campaign encourage women to say “no” more to things that no longer serve them and to take time for the things that serve them.

How advertisers can do better
Creating a more accurate portrayal of mothers begins with advertisers understanding and educating themselves about the realities of family caregiving.

“Our responsibilities are tougher and more complicated than ever as families have increasing demands, and the emotional and financial stress can be overwhelming,” said Staci Alexander, vice president of thought leadership at AARP, who handles a child with special needs and aging. relative. “Our stories need to be accurately represented across media, marketing and advertising.”

Nicholas agreed on the responsibility of ending the narrow-minded portrayal of fathers who work full time, ‘baby-sit’ and are unable to do household chores and mothers who take care of everything. It starts when advertising agencies set rigorous standards that challenge gender stereotypes.

Rodsky said women should be shown in their “unicorn space”, the place where they actively seek out what makes them who they are and in all their power beyond their roles as parents, partners and professionals.

Blessing Adesiyan, Founder and CEO of Mother Honestly, agrees, adding, “We have so many sides. We are CEOs, C-level executives, business leaders and we happen to be mothers.

Collins said it well: “Each mother has her own unique story, and it is crucial that advertising and the media recognize that there is not one story to tell, but many. We all want to be seen.

It is also important to hire and promote diverse advertising talent. It amplifies diverse and often underrepresented voices and creates works that reflect the world as it is and as it could be.

Ultimately, advertisers need to stop portraying “mom roles” and “dad roles” as separate.

“There is a role: parent. And the sooner publicity reflects that, the better off we’ll all be,” Nicholas said.