Stereotyping – is it dangerous, or necessary? I explain why, as humans, we need stereotypes, but why, as marketers, we must be cautious of them.
Good afternoon everyone. Today I’m going to be talking about: “Don’t believe the stereotype”.
Recently, it was reported in the news that the Advertising Standards Authority are going to crack down on negative gender stereotypes. And this particular advert, here, got slated for portraying a girl as being a ballet dancer, or growing up to be a ballet dancer, and a boy growing up to be an engineer.
Well it’s got me thinking about stereotypes in general and marketing, specifically. So, obviously, the first thing I did was Googled it. So, if anyone doesn’t know what a stereotype is: “stereotype is a widely held, but fixed and oversimplified image or idea, of a particular type of person or thing.”
We all know that stereotypes are a generalisation, right? Yet, we use them all the time, as people, and we use them all the time as marketers, as well. And often stereotypes are perceived as something negative. So why do we use them?
Well, it turns out that a stereotype is an important function of the brain. Firstly, it helps with cognitive efficiency. So, if I take an example of, perhaps I’ve heard something in the news about Russian football fans being violent, I make that connection between Russian football fans and violence. So, when I next hear about a Russian football fan, I automatically make that association with violence.
Secondly, it helps us understand and predict social situations. So, let’s go back to the football analogy. So, if I was to meet one of these Russian football fans I might predict that they would be violent towards me and act accordingly.
And thirdly, it’s a way of making us feel better. It’s a way of helping us fit in to a group. Once again, the football analogy: being English, I might associate English football fans with positive things. Whereas, all other football teams, I would associate with negative things, such as the Italians are always divers, or the Russians always violent, or something like that.
So that’s why we need them as humans, but as marketers we also use them all the time, as well. We tend to call them something different. We use the term ‘persona’ or maybe ‘segments’ or ‘audiences’. But they’re all generalisations that we’re associating with a group of people.
And, very crudely, we might, as marketers, use them in perhaps three ways.
It’s these last two, perhaps, I want to focus on, because those are the ones, I think, where we can get things very wrong.
And here’s an example by Clarks, where they have a range of shoes, where they’ve called the girls’ ones ‘Dolly Babe’, and the boys’ ones ‘Leader Play’. Now, this might have been all right in the 1950s, but in modern society all this does is reinforce out of date and negative, sexist stereotypes.
An example of targeting, perhaps, is with Empire magazine, which is perceived very much as a male orientated magazine. But, if we were to only go out and seek men who like film, then we might miss the fact that women are nearly twice as likely to convert. And also, women produce 34% more in subscription revenue.
So, without going into the data and trying to understand what’s really going on, we’re missing a huge opportunity and perhaps wasting a lot of money.
But there’s other benefits to challenging stereotypes, as well. I want show an example here of, if you haven’t seen it, is the McCain’s family ad. I’ll just play it now.
When it comes to family, what’s normal? Normal isn’t normal. There’s mummy, mum, ma, mama. Stay-at-home mums. Working mums. Single mums. Productive mums.
McCain, we are family.
So, what McCain have done here is they’ve challenged the standard nuclear family stereotype, and in doing so, the advert really jumps out of you from other adverts that you might see on TV. But, it’s also much more inclusive and appeals to an even larger audience than perhaps normally would have been the case.
Another example of a really powerful advert, I think, is Always ‘Like a Girl’.
How do you think it affects them when somebody uses ‘like a girl’ as an insult?
I think it definitely drops their self-confidence.
And what advice do you have to young girls who are told they ‘run like a girl’, ‘kick like a girl’, ‘hit like a girl’, ‘swim like a girl’?
Keep doing it, because it’s working.
I find this advert hugely powerful, because it stands out, because it’s trying to dispel a negative, an inaccurate stereotype that is hugely harmful to about half the population. So, there’s a social responsibility to this as well.
It’s really difficult to break a stereotype, because breaking a stereotype also breaks our understanding of the world and, therefore, we have to create something else to replace it. But, as marketers, we should challenge stereotypes – if they’re wrong, if they’re negative – and not reinforce them because, if we don’t, we’re not connecting with the people we’re trying to market to.
I’m not saying that we should not use stereotypes. Rather, I’m saying that we should reflect modern audiences and values.
What does the future hold? Does it mean that we’re going to get rid of stereotypes altogether and start to evaluate people as individuals? Possibly. We’re getting there. In the digital world, there’s so much data available, and it precedes us around the web. Joining up all this data is still quite difficult, but when we can, we should be able to offer an individual, personalised experience.
But, do I think we’ll ever get rid of stereotypes? No, it’s part of being human. And whatever we programme or automate, it’s got to appeal to humans as well, and is, therefore, going to have human traits.
My name’s Bertram Greenhough. Thank you very much for listening.