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5 Dangers Of Stereotyping In Strategic Marketing Campaigns

July 31, 2020 Sarah Cavill

Advertising campaigns can sometimes have a way of veering toward stereotypical depictions. The obvious danger in choosing to advertise by relying on stereotypes is potential customers becoming alienated and turned off, which is the opposite intention of any marketing strategy. However, there are other more nuanced reasons that stereotyping in marketing is a bad idea. 

Here are five reasons why stereotyping is dangerous for brands:

1. Brands Can Get Pigeonholed If They Only Market Their Product To One Group

Shutterstock_510917605 Cropped image of beautiful woman in protective gloves holding a flat wet-mop and bucket with detergents and rags while cleaning her house

All brands are going to use targeting, an important and effective way to reach certain audience segments that, based on data, location and the use of social listening, have expressed interest in the products and services of that brand. However, when products are only visibly targeted to one audience over and over again, the public perception of that product, and by extension that brand, can get pigeonholed. For example, cleaning products for years were marketed almost exclusively to women, which made increasing purchases by men a steeper hill to climb. Likewise, women working toward a more equality focused lifestyle felt unsupported by many cleaning brands that appeared to promote the idea of women as the people responsible for keeping homes spotless.

2. Consumers Will Balk At Monolithic Generalizations

Circling back to scaring away potential customers, nobody wants to feel diminished or condescended to when looking at or watching an advertisement. Moms can fix lawn mowers, dads can care for their children and girls can play baseball. A happy dad managing a busy day, including making dinner, will resonate more with modern fathers than the classic “bumbling dad” who can’t cook a hot dog without burning down the kitchen. Male-focused advertising for classically female-focused products and services can also resonate with women, who happily recognize the diversity being presented.

3. Stereotypes In Advertising Can Be Harmful 

In June 2019, a “landmark ruling” from the Committees of Advertising Practice (CAP) – went into effect in the UK. The ruling “prohibits marketers from portraying ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes in advertising,” after a review by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) found that certain stereotypes can be damaging to how people perceive themselves, impeding their hopes and aspirations. “Our evidence shows how harmful gender stereotypes in ads can contribute to inequality in society, with costs for all of us. Put simply, we found that some portrayals in ads can, over time, play a part in limiting people’s potential,” said Guy Parker, Chief Executive of the ASA.

4. Marketing That Relies On Stereotypes Limits Revenue

A study by Kantar found that two-thirds of women skip ads that they find stereotypical and that “female-skewed” ads perform better than “male-skewed ads.”  However, Marketing Week notes “data shows men are 38% more likely to be featured prominently than women in advertising. And when both genders appear, men feature more frequently than women in a leading role (21% versus 15%).” In short, brands that are narrow in how they display their products and services are leaving money on the table.

5. Brands That Reject Stereotypes May Find Themselves On The Right Side Of History

burger king pride proud whopper

A famous example of a brand going against the grain was the Proud Whopper, which Burger King released in San Francisco in 2014. Burger King has a reputation as a wholesome, traditional brand, and their advertising tends to skew toward nuclear families chowing down on sizzling sandwiches. So, it was considered a risk to release the Proud Whopper celebrating the LGBTQ community, but ultimately the Burger King campaign was a success. According to Think With Google, “The video of the audience's reactions [to the Proud Whopper], which BK posted online, received 7M views across all social platforms. The YouTube video alone has received more than 5.3M to date. The Proud Whopper ad reached 20% of the U.S. population, and young millennials over-indexed by 4.8X.” Advertising that aligns with Pride is now commonplace and generally considered a must have by many well-known brands, which means that Burger King was ahead of the curve, a perk of not pigeonholing themselves or their consumers with stereotypical marketing.

Brands Can Take Steps To Avoid Stereotyping In Advertising And Will Reap The Benefits

AdWeek reports that many brands shy away from casting black actors and models for fear of negative reactions by white consumers, despite evidence to the contrary in the TV and movie watching habits of white audiences. The move toward more fair representation in advertising and marketing has to begin with listening to customers and being willing to shape the story instead of taking the path of least resistance. Less stereotyping in advertising is better for revenues, brand perception, engagement from younger audiences and, ultimately, long-term change to make a more equitable society.

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About the Author

Sarah Cavill

With more than 20 years of writing, editing and reporting experience, Sarah Cavill brings to Digital Media Solutions (DMS) a fine-tuned and diverse set of skills. Her work has been featured in notable publications including The Daily Muse, CBS Local, Techlicious and Glamour magazine. Sarah has a passion for current events and the deep-dive research that goes into the content development and brand identity of DMS Insights. In her role as Senior Marketing Communications Writer, Sarah contributes to the pitching, researching and writing of multiple stories published each week surrounding digital and performance marketing innovations in pop culture, news, social media, branding and advertising.

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