ASCI’s GenderNext study finds ads continue to depict gender stereotypes

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on October 20, 2021

600 ads were analysed to reveal overused and harmful stereotypical tropes

Brands may have been making efforts to adopt a more progressive stance for portrayal of women in their ads recently, but a study has revealed that mainstream advertising content continues to be afflicted with problems of gender stereotyping.

The study by Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) and Futurebrands, titled GenderNext, also found that there are gaps between how ads portray women and how women see themselves or want to be seen.

Futurebrands’ Lipika Kumaran, who is the lead author of GenderNext said, “A detailed analysis of 600 ads revealed several overused and sometimes harmful stereotypical tropes. In fact, categories such as food, beauty and personal care and automobiles, seem to have their own set of depiction stereotypes.”

Common examples

For instance, ads in categories related to food and home products, the analysis revealed a tendency to sensualise the act of eating by women or obscuring the burden of labour and demands placed on women. By often pairing women with serving trays or chopping boards, and men with laptops or newspapers, such ads also tend to create a stark contrast between women’s tasks and those of men, the study added.

In financial advertising, women are often shown as spenders and marginalising the role of women in wealth creation. Similarly, in automobile and gadget ads, objectification of women, placing them in the passenger seat, instead of behind the wheel, showing women as lower down in tech-hierarchy or male celebrities challenging and instructing women were often portrayed.

Women respondents also stated that they are tired of narratives often shown in ads, of them emerging victorious only after significant struggles. “Women interviewed across different life stages and town classes pointed out that it is not them but others in their sphere who lag behind them, and they are the ones in need of empowerment,” the report stated.


Santosh Desai, MD, Futurebrands Consulting said, “While things are changing and brands are moving away from overtly exploitative advertising, there are significant challenges as there are both subtle and non-subtle ways through which gender portrayals are skewed. There is also a substantial gap between how gender is depicted in ads and how women actually see themselves. Therefore, advertising, which was historically seen as the most progressive medium of gender representation, needs to catch up.”

The study recommends that brands should follow “the SEA (Self-esteemed - Empowered – Allied) Framework” to evaluate portrayals of women in their ad content. It suggests ad makers should look at aspects of how women feel about themselves (self-esteem), how women relate to the situation they are cast in (empowered) and how others are seen partnering in their progress (allied).

It has also recommended the “3S screener” for evaluating ad scripts. “The screener can be used to look at aspects of Subordination (where the woman is placed lower in the hierarchy of decision making), Service (where the woman is seen at the service of others) and Standardisation (where the woman’s appearance or demeanor is styled/directed into mandated projections that blur individuality),” it stated.

ASCI taskforce

ASCI too will be looking at actionable insights from the findings of the study. Manisha Kapoor, Secretary-General, ASCI said, “The tools recommended by the study can help brands to evaluate if their ads may be reinforcing certain stereotypes. We will also be setting up a taskforce to examine the findings and see whether any specific guidelines are required to tackle the issue of gender stereotypes.”

Published on October 20, 2021

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