Positive Portrayals of Women and Girls in Ads Accelerate Business Growth
By Jennifer Pelino, Global Media, IRI
Although we are wrapping up Women's History Month and our tribute to this year's International Women's Day, female empowerment remains a global imperative for more effective action on a wide range of issues. These celebrations help underscore the fact that gender equality is important every day for a sustainable future for all of us and sharing this equality in all aspects of life is critical, including in the world of advertising and media.
To highlight progress and call out areas of opportunity, a Gender Equality Metric (GEM) was created to uncover unconscious gender bias in advertising and programming. This metric was defined with a methodology that ranks the representation of women and girls in media based on a qualified four-statement model. It focuses on how female characters are being presented, if they are shown in a respectful or an inappropriate manner, and if they are viewed as a positive role model. More positive portrayals garner higher numerical rankings, with a GEM score of 100 being on par with the baseline for all tested ads. Scores above 100 are considered high GEM scores.
IRI explored this further with the 2021 GEM® Lift Study we recently released in partnership with SeeHer (a division of the Association of National Advertisers or ANA), the largest global movement for accurate representation of women and girls in advertising and media. The report investigated whether accurate and positive depictions of women and girls in ads have an effect in driving incremental sales lift – and the answer was a resounding yes.
The study linked depictions of women to offline sales using SeeHer's GEM (Gender Equality Measure) with IRI Lift, a rigorous media measurement and optimization solution that uses sales outcomes as the core metric for both measurement and optimization at a household level. The 2021 study measured 29 creatives across six brands from SeeHer members PepsiCo, Johnson & Johnson, L'Oréal, General Mills and Kimberly-Clark. It also measured 837 aired programs across myriad platforms.
The results were compelling and undeniable:
- The ads with the highest GEM scores had the highest sales lift.
- Television programs with high GEM scores generated higher sales lift compared to shows with medium representation and far outpaced programs with low GEM scores.
- In 2019, a GEM score of 100 or greater drove sales lift, but in 2021, the baseline for success in achieving sales lift was a GEM score of 106. This suggests that the movement to portray women and girls more accurately is moving the needle.
- Perception of what is "appropriate" in female portrayals has shifted 15% as consumers become more discerning and demand more accurate portrayals of women. Related to this trend, there has been a double-digit decline in the most objectionable ads.
- Ads with GEM scores of 106 or above delivered 60% improved sales performance overall across viewers of all genders, languages, races and ethnicities measured.
- High-GEM ads produced 41% sales lift among Hispanic women and 80% sales lift among Black women.
- Ads with 106 or higher GEM scores produced 12% incremental sales lift for women but a whopping 81% sales lift for men, indicating strong allyship from men in supporting women's equality.
A Case Study: Pure Leaf Tea
PepsiCo Partners' Pure Leaf iced teas feature a "no" process for brewing iced tea: No artificial flavors, no tea powders and no concentrates. The brand's "No Is Beautiful" campaign aligns with this approach by encouraging consumers to say no to things that don't matter so they can say yes to more things that do.
The campaign was influenced by Pure Leaf research indicating that 85% of women say that taking on too many tasks negatively affects their quality of life, and 86% agree that being able to say no to more undesired asks would feel liberating. The campaign's theme was also informed by SeeHer research showing that messages of self-care and support are narratives that women desire.
The campaign succeeded in delivering significant increases in sales among all women measured. And one Pure Leaf ad with a GEM score of 111 saw 119% sales lift compared to its lowest-scored ad of 100 among all diverse women groups.
A New Measure of Impact
The GEM Lift methodology gauges the equality of ads, provides campaign reads for TV and layers these inputs with shopper and sales data. The data sources include more than 500 million frequent shopper loyalty cards from multiple retailers as well as IRI's complete market coverage across all outlets, using both consumer panel and point-of-sale data.
With GEM Lift, advertisers can answer and respond to critical questions that include:
- What is the overall incremental sales impact or lift of my GEM-scored ad campaign?
- What publishers and networks provide the highest sales impact?
- Which creative message, publishers and placement strategy should I adjust to optimize impact?
- Which target audiences best respond to cross tactics like programming and creative?
- What combination of programming and creative worked best?
In a world where accurate, positive portrayals of women and girls produce tangible sales benefits, GEM Lift highlights the messages, outlets, audiences and campaigns that work best. In the process, it assists you in pinpointing the best ways to promote positive societal change and better business results at the same time.