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The fall of ‘mad men’ advertising: eradicating gender stereotypes and promoting inclusivity

The advertising industry is still male-dominated, but as more women are taking on leadership roles, we can see a significant drop in negative stereotypes in advertisements as a result.

Advertising has made a huge jump from the days of ‘mad men’ – a group of white, middle-aged men, smoking and deciding what women wanted. Then women joined the industry, but were only allowed to work on women’s products. In recent years, however, the number of women in top executive roles has risen considerably.

Women helping women

These women are creating major change - several groups have been formed by female seniors in advertising, fighting to eliminate offensive stereotypes. Creative Equals, founded by Ali Hanan is a growing initiative which aims to tackle the gender pay gap, encourage advertisers to use more female creatives and create positive images of women. 

It also aims to help more black, Asian, minority-ethnic (BAME) people into positions of leadership. The group found that only 16% of creative directors are women, despite the fact there are more women in junior roles – a 60:40 split. Women are helping others rise to senior positions in this industry. Women are demonstrating that they are just as capable as men of doing the same work, to the same standard, and are now seeing more opportunities to progress than ever.

The number of men advocating for more women in advertising, and less stereotypical content, is growing as a result of ongoing campaigns. 

A diverse advertising team will create diverse content

Consumers love diverse content – it boosts both sales and a company’s reputation. Brands with inclusive content will maximise the number of people they appeal to, helping to boost financial performance. With consumers increasingly considering a company’s social value when making purchasing decisions, brands who commit to inclusivity will improve their reputation and become more attractive to buy from.

Adverts which challenge stereotypes are being praised and boosting company sales; a recent example being the 2019 Gillette ad which highlighted and protested against 'toxic masculinity' and praised 'healthy' male behaviour.


Many men feel they are not ‘allowed’ to show emotion in society, which is known to contribute to high suicide rates in men. Ads like Gillette’s are making it more socially acceptable for men to take a much greater share of childcare responsibilities, to share their emotions, and build healthy relationships. People are more likely to buy from, and work for, these companies - women will almost always skip ads which include negative stereotypes.

The more diverse your workplace is, the more likely your team is to create innovative and more interesting content, which will appeal to a wider audience – and in turn can increase engagement and even sales.

Introduction of ASA gender equality guidelines

New Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) rules were introduced in 2019, banning ads which “include gender stereotypes that are likely to cause harm or serious or widespread offence”. This was met with backlash; critics claim the rules go too far or aren’t clear enough on what constitutes ‘harm’.

It has already banned some adverts. Philadelphia’s portrayal of men in chaos while trying to take care of children is based on the stereotype that childcare is for women. Philadelphia stands by the ad, saying it was trying to avoid the same stereotype by using two dads instead of two mums.

The ASA says its decisions are based on context and common sense. Marketing professionals should be able to avoid replacing a stereotype with another stereotype.

With these new guidelines in place, it becomes even more critical to have a marketing and creative team who can think beyond 'lazy' stereotypes and create inspiring, inclusive campaigns.

​If you’re looking for a new role in the marketing and creative sector, or the perfect candidate for your business, find your nearest Reed Marketing & Creative branch.

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